Services With AJAX and PHP (SWAP)

22 Feb 2006 In: Technobabble

I have been tinkering with AJAX since shortly after Adaptive Path coined the phrase. Since I made the discovery I have watched dozens of libraries, frameworks and classes develop claiming to be *the* way to develop AJAX powered applications. To be honest I find it all a little overwhelming. Do you use the PHP AJAX libraries to generate the JavaScript for you, or do you use the JavaScript libraries to make the AJAX programming manageable? Answer that question, and then decide between 15 different available tools. Decide on the tool, get a couple days into development and find a limitation. Spend the rest of the afternoon second guessing all previous decisions.

I am about to create a software distribution system for my organization that will replace the need for installation technicians to carry around physical media with them. It will also leapfrog over certain licensing issues related to creating physical media for employees to use on their home machines and dramatically increase the accuracy of license tracking and reporting. I got pretty deep into it doing things the way I usually do, writing everything from scratch, but today I went to look at my code and, well, found myself depressed.

My road out of that depression was to find a new pseudo-framework for developing PHP applications that was AJAX friendly. After much research I think I have come up with an approach, which I will be using in my new application. Everything has to have a name these days, so I will call this pseudo-framework “Services With AJAX and PHP”, or “SWAP”.

Web Developer’s are People Too!

22 Feb 2006 In: Opinions

Web Developers often get pigeon-holed as less serious or second class programmers. While the Web 2.0/AJAX revolution seems to be changing that somewhat, it is still present. I have recently been tinkering with Ruby on Rails and was discussing it with a Java Enterprise developer. When I mentioned my job title/position his response was a cautionary “Well, Ruby on Rails uses a lot of object oriented programming techniques”. Is burying your head in messy Java code all day a prerequisite to program intelligently and elegantly? I was thoroughly annoyed. The web developer is the Jack-of-all-trades of the computing industry. Here are the tasks I did on my last project:

  • Created a visually appealing design for a website
  • Converted that design into standards compliant, cross-browser friendly HTML and CSS
  • Enhance the user interface with JavaScript via DHTML and AJAX
  • Create a database schema to support the application data
  • Created PHP classes to interface with the database and the application and implement business rules
  • Acted as systems administrator for the project, maintaining and configuring the server and all required services.

Stack that up with the fact that usually you work all alone, with no one to bounce ideas off of or discuss problems, and I don’t really see how non-web developers have come to that conclusion. But they have. Let’s put an end to Web Developer oppression!

A quick Google search on “Apache2 PHP5 Oracle Instant Client” will yield a plethora of documents on how to install these packages to play well with one another. In fact, I even followed them when I built a recent server and everything went swimmingly. When I had to rebuild the server a couple of days later though, I couldnt get it to work, using the same approach. I spent almost a week tweaking environmental settings, modifying config files, etc. but nothing worked. Today I discovered the problem. Apparantly I was using PHP 5.1.1 the first time, and 5.1.2 the second time, and when I compiled PHP, the syntax for the switch to install Oracle changed. using the old syntax does not trigger an error or a warning, and it can be difficult to debug.

Old Syntax:

./configure –with-oci8-instant-client=/path/to/oracle

New Syntax:

./configure –with-oci8=instantclient,/path/to/oracle

The difference is subtle. One more migrain down!

Feeding the birds at Ferril Lake

2 Jan 2006 In: Miscellaneous

Ferril Lake at City ParkToday Amy and I took the kids to Ferril Lake in City Park to feed the ducks. We had two very full bags of sliced baguettes that were starting to go moldy and so off we went. The first thing I noticed was that there were no ducks, only geese and seagulls. The seagulls came in first, quick and fast. They greedily gobbled up a good portion of the stuff before the geese moved in. The Geese were, and always seem to me, q bit scary. They moved in slow, like battleships, all at once. Within moments we were submerged in a cloud of deep rumbling quacks. All in all it was a good time.

I remember in Fort Collins there were signs all over the place threatening to fine people who feed the ducks/geese/birds/etc. I saw no such signs around Ferril lake, or I would have thought twice about doing it. I have mixed feelings about all that though. On one hand you don’t want to increase the bird population that is dependant on human support and it probably messes up migration patterns. On the other hand it’s a lot of fun. I can’t really think that giving some food to some birds is going to tip the ecological balance all that much, especially when it’s been going on for centuries. Anyway, all this is just an excuse to link to my gallery so I can show off the photos I took today. My new camera (Kodak EasyShare Z760) is proving to be a far better tool than our last one (Kodak EasyShare DX6340). Enjoy!

Blizzo Gallery: Feeding the Birds

My Web Comic List

15 Dec 2005 In: Reviews

Last night while playing games at a friends house we started talking about web comics. I’ve always loved comics, and web comics provide a forum for niche audiences that are too offensive, surreal or non-traditional for general consumption. I agreed to post the list of web comics that I read daily, so here it is:

  • PvPOnline
    You have to be living in a hole to have missed this one. It follows the day to day lives of a group of people that work for a gaming magazine. It has quality art and really great storylines.
  • Wigu
    Back from the dead! The second comic by Jeffrey Rowland, a follow-up to his successful “When I Grow Up”. It follows the adventures of a boy named Wigu and his family. Have you seen my “I am made of poison!” T-Shirt? This is where it came from
  • Diesel Sweeties
    Diesel Sweeties is mostly one-liner type comics with occasional short story arcs. The writing is witty and unique, and the art is all old school pixel style.
  • Sinfest
    Sinfest is a comic about Slick and Monique, two young urban hipsters and their friends. Regular guest appearances by god and the devil. Very good stuff.
  • Wapsi Square
    How do I begin to describe this? It’s a character comic that revolves around a short, busty Latin girl with lots of spunk that works for a museum. Very unique storylines and interesting characters that sometimes pull from ancient central american legends.
  • Chugworth Acadaemy
    Chugworth Academy has beautiful art, leaning towards the anime/manga style. It contains quite a few adult themes and the authors comments are sometimes totally non-sensical, but I have crushes on the whole cast 🙂
  • Alien Loves Predator
    What would it be like if an alien (you know, the snake-like critters from Aliens) and a Predator shared an apartment together in Manhattan? Pretty much what you would expect. Unique artistically in that the whole thing is done with digital pictures of action figures (with a lot of Photoshop touching up). Quite hilarious.
  • Sore Thumbs
    Sore Thumbs is the first totally political gamer comic. A dorky conservative guy and her uber-hot anime style liberal sister run a video game store together. Lots of interesting characters and an emphasis on longer story-arcs.
  • Penny Arcade
    Like PvP Online, Penny Arcade is a widely known comic. It’s about two roommates and mostly focuses on gaming themes, with some hilarious deviations. Quality.
  • Rob and Elliot
    What can I say about Rob and Elliot? It has to be one of the funniest comics of all time. It never ceases to surprise me with plot twists as predictable as the weather in Colorado and great art. I absolutely adore this comic!
  • Mac Hall
    Mac Hall has absolutely beautiful art, and the writing isn’t bad either. This comic is about to get cut from my daily list though, as updates are incredibly sporadic, sometimes going weeks between postings.
  • Real Life
    This comic is about a guy named Greg, and it is loosely based on his real life. Real life events drive the major storyline, but the day to day stuff is much more interesting than anyone’s life could actually be. Unless you happen to have time machines and be involved in international conspiracies.
  • Dinosaur Comics
    I just added this into my daily routine and it is hilarious. The comic itself is the same six panels of art everyday with only dialogue changes. It is very surreal humor with a lot of philosophy and over thinking of everyday events. Be sure to hover on the image to read the alt text after you read each comic, two punch lines for the price of one!

There are several comics I have enjoyed in the past and have stopped reading. I used to really like MegaTokyo, but got turned off by inconsistent updates and too many stick figure art days (which I never found interesting at all). One of my all time favorites was Bobbins, but sadly it came to an end. Scary-go-round, the follow-up project to bobbins was good, but it failed to hold my interest. Sheldon is a good comic about a boy, his grandfather and a duck. I stopped reading it when they started recycling strips. Greystone Inn was interesting, I can’t remember why I stopped reading it. Maybe I’ll start again!

Post comments, let me know what you’re reading!

Star Wars: The Next Generation

9 Nov 2005 In: Observations

I am a Star Wars movie fan. I specify movie because I have never read the books, read the comics, played the games, etc. I have just watched the movies… over and over and over. In fact, in my youth one of my close friends, Chad, and I used to watch the original trilogy back to back. We did that more than 50 times. I have a couple of Star Wars toys: An X-Wing, a Darth Maul Lightsaber (accidentally broken by Mason a couple days ago 🙁 – going for ridiculous $$$ on eBay!), a generic Lightsaber (bought for me by Amy the next day as a replacement so Mason and I can still duel!) and Star Wars Trivial Pursuit (which I have never lost). These pale in comparison to what hard core fans have collected.

I camped out for tickets to the re-releases of the holy trinity (Episodes IV – VI) and never allowed myself to see previews for episodes I-III. Amy and I saw Episode IV together on one of our very first dates. During Episode V, Amy was pregnant with Mason and he kicked like crazy whenever exciting scenes came up. Amy was pregnant with Madeleine when we went to see Episode VI. I guess we can’t have any more kids unless they dream up an Episode VII 😉 . I get excited when I watch Star Wars. It has a special place in my heart.

What I thought was more interesting was to see the special place it has in the hearts of our children’s generation. Despite the stock complaints about the new movies from us old school fans, the kids love the Star Wars universe. My son says to me on a daily basis now “Let’s play Star Wars”, which consists of mild Lightsaber fighting and lots of fancy, dramatic ways of extending the Lightsaber blade out of the handle towards one another. On Halloween I say hordes of Star Wars characters on the streets.

We are a generation that is defined and described through pop culture. What I never expected were institutions within pop culture to survive generations. By it’s definition pop culture is generally short lived and fleeting (What happened to the Mambo #5 guy? How long ago WAS that, it seems like forever!). The fact that “Lightsaber” and “Star Wars” are in my three year olds vocabulary speaks volumes. Let’s just home that things like Star Wars continue to be the one’s that stick, and current icon’s like Paris Hilton fade quickly into the background when their time has passed.

Craigslist Photographer and New Gallery

9 Nov 2005 In: Miscellaneous

Click here to see the photos.

I love craigslist. In addition to lots of good job postings and a great way to recycle old stuff I want to get rid of (like my old BBQ grill), it can be a great place to find services. Amy and I are big photography buffs. We have taken Mason to several photo shoots at places like K-Mart, and generally they are OK, but not very interesting. So how can you get a good photographer to take quality family photos without spending a lot of money? Enter Craigslist.

I put up a craigslist posting in the Creative section of the Gigs area asking for photographers who want to build their portfolios and earn a little money. I was overwhelmed by the responses, I think I had almost 50 responses within seven days. April O’Hare offered a good deal. She would shoot a roll of film (24 exposure) and give us 4×6 prints of all of them as well as a CD with high resolution scans of the negatives for $50. Not a good deal, a GREAT deal. She has since raised her rates, $80 for the session and an additional $10 for the CD, but still a good deal.

Not only that, but she did not have a website. I ended up trading services with her. I am building her a website (its almost done, www.apriloharephotography.com) and instead of cash compensation I get a credit towards services from her. It’s working out great!

There are two things that make Craigslist more a societal culture shift than a website. The first is the trend towards recycling items that would normally be heading towards a landfill (SOMEbody wants my old patio chairs, I’m sure). The second is the reappearance of the bartering system. Not only can you haggle, but you can offer non-traditional forms of compensation. I actually saw a posting of a girl offering her… oral services in exchange for someone doing about 20 loads of laundry for her. I’m not saying thats good or bad, just interesting. If you have a skill, you can now get more for your money by trading that skill in exchange for goods or services from others. A plumber can fix someone’s clogged drain while the guy fixes his laptop.

Anyway, on to my adorable family!

The New Racism

22 Sep 2005 In: Opinions

For a white guy I think I’m pretty aware when it comes to racial issues. In our urban utopias we like to think that racism is less of an issue when compared to the water-logged south. These thoughts are dangerous, and misleading. About two years ago I bought a house in a neighborhood just outside downtown Denver. Apparently back when the KKK was a roaring force in Denver around the turn of the century they established a race line. African-American people were only allowed to live north of 23rd Avenue and west of (roughly) York St. My house lay smack in the middle of this area.

Thankfully our world today has a little more justice, and there are no such limitations. However, due to that historical fact, the neighborhood is still predominantly black. Obviously I have no problem with this, I mean, I bought a house there, right? It didn’t take long to realize we weren’t really welcome. While there were plenty of people, regardless of race, who smiled and waved as we went for early evening walks, just as many people, predominately the African-American neighbors, would not only glare at us as we walked by, but continue to glare even after I smiled and waved at them (So much for taking initiative).

On the way to work this morning I was staring absently out the window (no, I wasn’t driving) and we drove past a young black girl who was jaywalking. We couldn’t see her as we approached, and we were nowhere near hitting her, but it just so happened that I made eye contact with her as she drifted past my field of vision. Her face contorted into a scowl and she proceeded to yell something offensive at me as we drove away. I couldn’t make out the words.

I was quite angry about this exchange. I vented to my wife about it quite a bit for the rest of the drive. Guaranteed, if this girl knew anything about me, that would have been a smile and a wave, not a heated exchange. Prejudice is not born of color, but of misunderstanding. What percentage of people make an honest attempt to understand and know someone regardless of first impressions? How do you break the ice with a neighbor who lives not more than fifty feet away from you, who through the course of two years has never offered anything more in greeting than an icy stare.

So what is my response to this treatment? First I feel anger, and then I feel guilt for my anger. If my neighbor were a middle class Caucasian male, I could happily feel angry at him all day. But because of race, I feel like I’m not allowed guilt. Who am I to be angry at people that have been discriminated against by people like me all their lives. Conclusion, I am a racist. A new racist. I am a racist because I am not able to treat others equally. I cannot express my feelings honestly for fear of appearing to be an old racist. Where is this stupid melting pot they kept promising us?

Hollywood Schmollywood

12 Aug 2005 In: Opinions

Over the last couple of years Hollywood has churned out one disappointing movie after another. If they aren’t cashing in on the nostalgia craze (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dukes of Hazard, Bad News Bears, etc) or ripping off comic books (Spiderman, Fantastic Four, Elektra, etc) they’re taking potentially interesting movies and dumbing them down until they could not possibly offend anyone.

This post is spinning off of a conversation I just had with Jason regarding this article about the upcoming movie version of The Da Vinci Code. Apparently they are so scared of offending certain groups of religious people that they are going to take out references to religious aspects of the book that do not conform to current beliefs of the Catholic church. Has anyone read that book? There would be no point in making it without those references. I’m not a huge fan of the Da Vinci Code as a book, but as I read it I kept thinking what a great movie it would have made. I’m frankly surprised they didn’t release it in screenplay format to begin with.

So what is happening to Hollywood? I blame digital special effects to start with. Like any kid with a new toy, they have been rearranging their lives to find any excuse to use it. Special effects are great and everything, but why not actually, you know, try to write a good story first. They have become reliant on the special effects to distract the viewers from the pathetic storylines.

I don’t really see people putting up with this long-term. Eventually attendance to movies (which is already way down at the moment) will drop to the point that they have to try something else or go out of business. Part of the problem is that movies cost so much to make now. Corporate Hollywood would rather release a mediocre movie that stays in the black than release something that might not be well received. I remember reading somewhere that every major movie studio is something like 5 flops away from going bankrupt. That doesn’t leave much motivation to take risks or experiment.

The independent movie scene has been gaining strength while Hollywood’s wanes. This trend will continue until there is more money to be made in “Independent” films, at which point the corporations will ruin those as well.

The Time Traveler’s Wife

12 Aug 2005 In: Reviews

The Time Traveler’s Wife
By Audrey Niffenegger

Rating: 5/5

I just finished reading this book by first time author Audrey Niffenegger. I thoroughly enjoyed her writing style. She has a nice voice, descriptive and enticing, and plenty of plot threads to keep you turning pages even when you start fighting sleep during those late night reading sessions.

The book is primarily about two people, Henry and Clare, who are friends and lovers. The catch is that Henry involuntarily time travels, and pops up anywhere in recent history sans clothing and usually feeling sick. This causes lots of interesting, as often good as bad, situations depending on where/when Henry appears. We find him visiting Clare as a child while he is middle aged, popping into his childhood bedroom and talking to himself, seeing intense moments in his life over and over from different angles.

The situation reminds me of the Cassandra Complex. If Henry sees something in the future, he knows that no matter what he does that’s the way it will turn out. As a result he guards this knowledge carefully, as sharing it with others in the “present” can lead to great frustration as they try to undo the future. The book goes on in an appropriate level of detail to describe the scientific rationales for his involuntary temporal leaps, but not in so much detail that you can pick it apart.

Beyond the time travel aspect, the book describes a touching and, for me quite familiar, love story between Henry and Clare. The characters are highly accessible and believable, and you experience their joy and sorrow as you read.

The book also lends itself to great conversation and it even has a couple pages of discussion questions in the back. While most of them are a little on the obvious side, they point out certain themes throughout the book that are fun to discuss.

All this translates to a rating of 5 out of 5. Niffenegger manages to combine the great American novel with a science fiction story, and it works. It works well. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy, at the very least you will find it interesting, if not a truly cathartic experience.