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PHP That Just Works

September 18th, 2009
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I’m not one of those developers that likes to waste time setting up my dev environment. If I have a project to complete, I should be coding, not messing with config files, compiling Apache or messing with PHP to load that extension I just found out I needed. I like messing with my machine but not with an impending deadline.

With all this in mind, I’ve tried to simplify my entire dev environment over the years… not from a perspective of using simple tools and sticking to basics, but instead from a perspective of optimizing my workflow and keeping my development moving. In the middle of a project, I feel that systems admin focus should be on tweaking the production machines, rather than screwing around with my local dev box.

Zend Server CE Control PanelAlways looking for ways to make development easier, I decided to give the Zend Server CE (Community Edition) a try. The idea is that it installs your PHP, Apache, MySQL (with PHPMyAdmin) and a great management console that allows you to install extensions with just a click. You can still customize our Apache conf and other things, but it works well out of the box (I’m on a Mac). While you can run it along side another Apache installation, I tweaked it to run on port 80 and handle multiple virtual hosts. While this may not be ideal for all teams, it can allow everyone to have the same environment without having to mess with poorly updated all-in-one dev environments.

One of the reasons this excites me, being on a Mac, is that every time in the past that I’ve updated my Mac OS, the install kills something on my system causing my development environment to go all wonky. Then I have to spend precious work time to fix it. The Zend Server CE install keeps everything nice and tidy and, to my knowledge, doesn’t rely on other stuff outside of the install to function (unless you are setting host entries in your hosts file, /etc/hosts on a Mac).

This, oh so sweet, environment gets a little better. While I still have a variety of development tools at my disposal, my main IDE has become Zend Studio (Eclipse). I know, I know… there are a lot of purists out there that say it’s too heavy, or sluggish, or isn’t simplistic enough. There are occasional bugs or things that annoy me, but at the end of the day it is integrated enough that it lets me get my work done. That’s the whole point of an IDE. It also integrates with Flex Builder plugin which is a plus for me.

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Flash on an iPhone?

April 10th, 2009
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Flash is not supported on the iPhone

Flash is not supported on the iPhone

As many of you know, I love Apple products. Not to the exclusion of the everything else, but I’ve got to hand it to them. They’ve created product lines that, despite the often steep cost, attract users and keep them reeled in with great user experience and phenomenal practicality.

One thing has really been bugging me though… this whole issue about Flash on an iPhone. It doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon and if it does, it will likely be a trimmed down, “do nothing” version. See the Wired.com article.

While I love my iPhone and a great part of the internet can be seen on it, it really ticks me off that they are essentially censoring my use of the internet. Not because of content appropriateness or service bandwidth issues and restrictions. They are censoring the internet on my device simply so they can keep a tight grip on the money they get from the App Store and the other paid-for downloadables that they provide. If you’re going to give me the web… give it all to me and let me decide what to view.

Sure I am missing a few fun games and other things from the world of Flash. But I am also missing access to some very important websites and data that I would like to get on my iPhone, including Adobe Flex-based reporting interfaces from work.

Apple, if you’re not going to allow Flash on the iPhone, at least give me a legit technical reason or something. Otherwise, find a way to make it work. It seems ridiculous that the “most advanced” phone device in the world, that does SO much, cannot even offer Flash. Meanwhile, other second-rate devices are, simply because they can. iPhone users pay good money for their phone and service (not to mention all the other Apple products they have also likely latched on to). It’s an insult really, that many of us professionals own these fantastic phones that we use for so many facets of our business and personal lives… but we can’t have Flash because Apple wants to take an even bigger slice of our paychecks.

I’m very curious to see how they handle this issue. I’ve loved Apple because of the flexibility, the power, the beauty of it all. But, this issue seems a bit too Micro$oft for my liking.

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Something NOT New for a Change?

March 27th, 2009
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I’m never really that surprised when I see the latest gadget on the shelves or on one of the many gadget websites that are for the express purpose of flaunting the fact that you don’t have the latest and greatest “thing”. New things are…. well old. There is always something new. There is always an “upgrade”, “new model” or something “totally revolutionary”.

Revolutionary? That word has been so watered down over the years… it almost lacks meaning altogether. Is shoving 100 gigs of ram onto a USB thumb drive revolutionary? Well, no… cool and complex, but not revolutionary.

Worm Poop in a Jug

Worm Poop in a Jug

Today, I saw something that ACTUALLY impressed me. Not in the “ooh”, “ahhhh”, “gotta have it” kinda way. It caught my attention in the overall purpose and drive behind the innovation. I’m talking about the company TerraCycle, Inc..

Okay, so I’m not typically the tree hugger type, but I consider myself conservation minded. Regardless, this is just cool. TerraCycle, Inc. takes trash, just everyday trash, and makes stuff out of it, reuses bottles and other packaging, etc… What caught my interest is that most other companies continue create new “stuff” that adds to the constant barrage of “buy this” and “get that”, while adding to the mountains of trashed iPods, disc players, spent PC’s and other trendy junk already in the landfills.

While I’m not likely to go out and buy one of their “Capri Sun” handbags or a jug of worm poop, it’s their tactic and business model that I find interesting. What if we applied this to technology? What if instead of making yet another shopping cart, blog system, CMS or code framework, we actually put effort into building on top of or improving what we already have access to? What if we could find TRULY creative ways to reuse the mounds of rejected hardware filling up our landfills for something other than sculptures and doorstops? Sure, there are several developers and companies that do that, but most don’t plain and simple.

I think perhaps there is a lot to be learned by looking at this way of doing business, not only as individuals but as an industry. As developers, can we add value to our industry and the world? Or are we filling the net with endless piles of already done cruft destined to be forgotten about next week for the latest and greatest cruft? Admittedly, every day of our career can’t be overflowing with pure innovation and meaning, but looking at TerraCycle, Inc. has me thinking about how I will spend my energy and resources in the future.

See a video about TerraCycle at CNN.

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Maximum Up-Time

May 2nd, 2008
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All the skill and innovation in the world doesn’t matter if you fall asleep on your keyboard. Having that extra edge is crucial. A long time ago, I used to try various herbal pick-me-up pills, usually found at gas stations. What I found was that they would drive me crazy. Too much energy, not enough focus, or I’d be wired and fidgety, but couldn’t keep my eyes open. None of them seemed to work well. I needed something that wouldn’t give me sugar highs, then drop me like a rock. I’m also not a coffee drinker.

Finally, I came across these great little pills at a gas station, called “UP-Time”. The ingredients looked a lot more balanced (not too much of any one thing) and they didn’t have anything that would jolt my system into convulsions. I tried them and they worked wonderful! I’ve been using them (as needed) every since.

The recommended dosage is 1 pill for every 50 lbs., however, I found the packet of 3 to do just the trick if I took them in the morning around breakfast. If I take them too late in the day I have a hard time going tosleep. It’s great now, because I can stay up till all hours of the night, and after I take them the next morning, it doesn’t even feel like I only got two hours of sleep. If I want to take them before staying up late, I take them after dinner instead. The website for the product line is: www.up-time.com. I use the blue packets or bottle. You may even be able to find them at your local gas station.

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“The Cuckoo’s Egg” – Great Read!

April 23rd, 2008
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A while back, I had the rare opportunity to sit down and enjoy a good book. Well, actually, it took many sittings, in between everything else. It was “The Cuckoo’s Egg: Tracking a Spy Through the Maze of Computer Espionage”, by Clifford Stoll.

All I can say is WOW!. It’s a true story about a guy who really isn’t all that computer savvy, yet gets a job working with high-end systems at Berkeley. A minor system accounting error turns into a huge trek down the road of tracking a hacker through a maze of connections and red tape.

The story takes place in the late 80′s, however, I found that it still pulled me in. The way he used the technology available at the time and the process he takes you through as he painstakingly tracks the hacker keeps you wondering what you would do and what will happen next. You get inside the mind of Cliff and learn a lot about what the hacker is thinking as he penetrates system after system, leaving a trail of evidence behind him.

Stoll did a great job of making it interesting for the geek and non-techie alike. There’s just enough explanation for a non- savvy type, but a lot of techie gems for a true geek. I highly recommend this book. Check it out!

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