24 December 2004

The best quote in this long-ish Livejournal post and threads (in which a programmer asks” please explain PHP to me) is this: “PHP sucks as a programming language as much as HTML sucks as a display description language. Somehow, they are both absolutely suited for the task at hand.

It’s all about keeping it sloppy, and it’s exactly why I love them both at the moment. Sure, there are other more appropriate tools at times, and I am as convinced as the next man of the sea of average-at-best PHP hackers out there… but when it shines, it can really be quite something. Anyhow, that quotation spoke to me a lot (and it’s a good-ish, if a bit snobby, discussion), so I thought I’d share.


21 December 2004

The trailer for Sin City has been released (quicktime, right-click to save). It’s breathtaking, visually; whilst the books are slight on plot, a multi-narrative film could be perfect for them. Bated breath, I tell thee.

I Hate WordPress

17 December 2004

This is not a knee-jerk opinion. It is a lengthy and balanced opinion that it has taken a good deal of time to reach. But the long and the short of it is that I really, really hate WordPress.

Perhaps “hate” is too strong a word. But it infuriates me to points that no piece of software ever should, and that’s not a good thing in it’s favour. “But Tom,” you say, “doesn’t infovore run on a battered old version of Movable Type?” Yes, it does. I’ve been using WordPress for another project, on a different server. It was ideally suited to task – good quality blogging engine supporting permalinks, archive, and trackback, which runs on PHP and MySQL, and involves minimum outlay (ie free).

WordPress fits the bill perfectly. Unfortunately, it’s littered with incomplete features – Administrator not being able to see other users public drafts; functionality to show single categories and single category archives (very, very easy in Moable Type) non existent without hacking the sourcecode. It doesn’t like dealing with multiple blogs without persuasion, and it really, really doesn’t like running a blog in a directory other than the one the scripts are installed in.

It’s a fairly impressive piece of software, I don’t deny, and I’m sure everyone is working really hard on the next version. If this was in a piece of software at version 0.7 I could just about understand.

But it’s not. WordPress is at 1.3 now, which frankly, is nonsense. I’m not asking for much, but 1.3 suggests something approaching a degree of finishedness, and that’s sorely lacking – some of the developers seem surprised when people find features that aren’t, as it were.

Added to that is the support forum, which is currently one of my least favourite places on the net. Post after post after post, all suggesting kludgey, amateurish hacks to the source code, none of which bear much similarity, none of which are backed up with authority. And then there’s all the people tempted by the free blogging software, befuddled by CSS, who repeatedly state that they are “well versed in HTML” or “skilled designers” but “it’s just the CSS” that foxes them. Which is nonsense.

And then you get all the guys who jump on the Web Standards bandwagon but they’re not sure why. It’s a complete mess; numpty CSS issues are resolved but never explained, just cursorily dealt with and pointed towards the many sites exxplaining the Box Model bug.

CSS is getting where table-layout was when it was hitting the hugetime – everyone knows it’s the way forward, but they’re not so hot at it, so they’ll bodge away.

Movable Type, despite it’s flaws, and acknowldging the fact it’s more established, is streets ahead; in part, because it was coded by a very small, very tight team, who were imaginative enough to see its potential. Sure, it’s blogging software, but it could be used as a quite powerful CMS – and that’s evident in its design. And now, it’s honestly worth paying for.

In fact, I think the real problem with WordPress is that it is Open Source; too many cooks hacking the broth, so to speak. Everyone’s free to dive in and bugfix; no-one’s responsible for the big problems. Combined with finishing off someone else’s work, and a stubborn insistence on sticking to the blog format, and to as few physical pages as possible, and it ends up being a mess. Bits of it are great, and I love the concept – and, obviously, it fits the blogging bill for a lot of people.

But if you’re me, it’s phenomenally frustrating, unfinished, and could well be another nail in the coffin for webdesign. And that’s why I, Tom Armitage, hate WordPress. Hey, at least I feel something for it.

I broke the weblog.

12 December 2004

A combination of being too tired, hungover, and burnt out, and accidents will happen. Working on code is always a bad idea in that particular scenario.

I accidentally erased the Infovore template and stylesheet. Thankfully, I saved the template, but only had a six-month old copy of the stylesheet. So I had to do my best to rebuild it. We’re just about there, but the menu isn’t finished.

Ah well. Infuriating hour and a bit rebuilding it, I tell you. I’ve learned my lesson for next time…


09 December 2004

Magpie – an XML-based RSS parser for PHP. Really, really handy.

Personal Development

09 December 2004

For about the past month I’ve started learning PHP. This may not sound very remarkable, but it’s kind of important to me; I never really clicked with programming bar managing some basic arithmetical stuff in QBasic, and this disappointed me, as I was rather interested in it.

Anyhow, whilst my XHTML/CSS skills are germinating nicely, I felt it time to add another string to my bow, so settled down with a local PHP install (thank heavens for local Apache!) and started learning from a book.

I’ve steered well clear of MySQL stuff purely because the current book is terrible on it, and am going to devote myself to learning about MySQL app development when I’ve finished the basics – all I have left on my current course are session variables, cookies, and regular expressions.

But I’ve now acquired enough to start being able to use it, and it’s enormously satisfying. This morning, over breakfast, a big idea hit me around the head. So I whipped up a Basecamp setup for the project (in part to test Basecamp out, and it’s proving to be an excellent app, and really useful for tracking progress and info) and started hammering out some notes on the train to work.

Fast-forward to tonight, where I settled down to work. I found a suitable library online and installed that into the working directory, and have slowly been working my towards goal after goal and ticking them off.

And it’s going well. It’s going really, really well. I’m quite excited. There will in due course be a seperate site about the project, but for now, it’s still under wraps. Still, I’m doing things I never thought I could, and the glow inside it’s generating is quite something.

So more on this later. I’m slowly edging my way to becoming a more rounded web-person.

What does this application do? All I’m saying is: Halo 2, RSS, PHP.

Sciral Consistency

07 December 2004

Getting Things Done, bar being the title of a book by David Allen, seems to be very popular at the moment. The geeks have hit critical mass – too many RSS feeds to read, to many projects to write, we need to get things done. Witness Life Hacks, 43folders, the gtd tag.

The big picture for me is work, which I tend to get done because I have to. I’m using notepads and checklists more than ever now, and it seems to be working – a work notebook, numbered pages, for ongoing stuff; a spiral-bound reporter’s pad for scrap notes and jottings; and a Moleskine which is for non-work stuff, and contains notes for fiction alongside Christmas lists, and checkboxes marked Hoover!

The stuff I have real difficulty with, is the not-habit and not-big stuff. Important but non-urgent. Repeated but not regular.

Enter, stage left, Sciral Consistency. Consistency is designed to fill this gap exactly. It’s very basic: along the top of a grid run days, down the side run tasks. When you add a task, you set a minimum and maximum number of days for that task to be done in. The grid fills with coloured squares – red for overdue, yellow for nearly overdue, green for ready, blue for in the clear. Double click on a square and it gains a dot – and all the colours update themselves.

It’s a computerised version of the star-chart you had when you were young for multiplication tables, spelling, or washing-up. It’s only useful for this kind of activity… but it’s very useful. Will see how it works out and I might end up registering it; it certainly prods me to do exactly the kind of tasks I forget.

Links & notes for this month