Thoughts

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16
Apr

The cost of building a "perfect" custom Drupal installation profile

With virtually everything in Drupal, there are two ways to accomplish a task: The Easy Way, or The Right™ Way.

Deploying a new Drupal site for the first time is no exception. The Easy Way – and almost certainly the most common way – is to simply copy your local version of the database to production (or staging), along with user-uploaded files. (Your code needs to be deployed too, and The Right™ Way to deploy it is with version-control, which you're hopefully using… but that's another story.)

The Right™ Way to deploy a Drupal site for the first time (at least since Drupal 7, and "with hurdles" since Drupal 6), is to only deploy your code, and to reproduce your database (and ideally also user-uploaded files) with a custom installation profile, and also with significant help from the Features module.

The Right Way can be a deep rabbit hole, though.

The Right Way can be a deep rabbit hole, though.

Image source: SIX Nutrition.

I've been churning out quite a lot of Drupal sites over the past few years, and I must admit, the vast majority of them were deployed The Easy Way. Small sites, single developer, quick turn-around. That's usually the way it rolls. However, I've done some work that's required custom installation profiles, and I've also been trying to embrace Features more; and so, for my most recent project – despite it being "yet another small-scale, one-dev site" – I decided to go the full hog, and to build it 100% The Right™ Way, just for kicks.

Does it give me a warm fuzzy feeling, as a dev, to be able to install a perfect copy of a new site from scratch? Hell yeah. But does that warm fuzzy feeling come at a cost? Hell yeah.

31
Mar

Using PayPal WPS with Cartridge (Mezzanine / Django)

I recently built a web site using Mezzanine, a CMS built on top of Django. I decided to go with Mezzanine (which I've never used before) for two reasons: it nicely enhances Django's admin experience (plus it enhances, but doesn't get in the way of, the Django developer experience); and there's a shopping cart app called Cartridge that's built on top of Mezzanine, and for this particular site (a children's art class business in Sydney) I needed shopping cart / e-commerce functionality.

This suite turned out to deliver virtually everything I needed out-of-the-box, with one exception: Cartridge currently lacks support for payment methods that require redirecting to the payment gateway and then returning after payment completion (such as PayPal Website Payments Standard, or WPS). It only supports payment methods where payment is completed on-site (such as PayPal Website Payments Pro, or WPP). In this case, with the project being small and low-budget, I wanted to avoid the overhead of dealing with SSL and on-site payment, so PayPal WPS was the obvious candidate.

Turns out that, with a bit of hackery, making Cartridge play nice with WPS isn't too hard to achieve. Here's how you go about it.

18
Mar

Protect the children, but don't blindfold them

Being a member of mainstream society isn't for everyone. Some want out.

Societal vices have always been bountiful. Back in the ol' days, it was just the usual suspects. War. Violence. Greed. Corruption. Injustice. Propaganda. Lewdness. Alcoholism. To name a few. In today's world, still more scourges have joined in the mix. Consumerism. Drug abuse. Environmental damage. Monolithic bureaucracy. And plenty more.

There always have been some folks who elect to isolate themselves from the masses, to renounce their mainstream-ness, to protect themselves from all that nastiness. And there always will be. Nothing wrong with doing so.

However, there's a difference between protecting oneself from "the evils of society", and blinding oneself to their very existence. Sometimes this difference is a fine line. Particularly in the case of families, where parents choose to shield from the Big Bad World not only themselves, but also their children. Protection is noble and commendable. Blindfolding, in my opinion, is cowardly and futile.

19
Nov

Some observations on living in Chile

For almost two years now, I've been living in the grand metropolis of Santiago de Chile. My time here will soon be coming to an end, and before I depart, I'd like to share some of my observations regarding the particularities of life in this city and in this country – principally, as compared with life in my home town, Sydney Australia.

There are plenty of articles round and about the interwebz, aimed more at the practical side of coming to Chile: i.e. tips regarding how to get around; lists of rough prices of goods / services; and crash courses in Chilean Spanish. There are also a number of commentaries on the cultural / social differences between Chile and elsewhere – on the national psyche, and on the political / economic situation.

My endeavour is to avoid this article from falling neatly into either of those categories. That is, I'll be covering some eccentricities of Chile that aren't practical tips as such, although knowing about them may come in handy some day; and I'll be covering some anecdotes that certainly reflect on cultural themes, but that don't pretend to paint the Chilean landscape inside-out, either.

Que disfrutiiy, po.

02
Nov

How smart are smartphones?

As of about two months ago, I am a very late and reluctant entrant into the world of smartphones. All that my friends and family could say to me, was: "What took you so long?!" Being a web developer, everyone expected that I'd already long since jumped on the bandwagon. However, I was actually in no hurry to make the switch.

Techomeanies: sad dinosaur.

Techomeanies: sad dinosaur.

Image source: Sticky Comics.

Being now acquainted with my new toy, I believe I can safely say that my reluctance was not (entirely) based on my being a "phone dinosaur", an accusation that some have levelled at me. Apart from the fact that they offer "a tonne of features that I don't need", I'd assert that the current state-of-the-art in smartphones suffers some serious usability, accessibility, and convenience issues. In short: these babies ain't so smart as their purty name suggests. These babies still have a lotta growin' up to do.

16
Oct

Symfony2: as good as PHP gets?

I've been getting my hands dirty with Symfony2 of late. At the start of the year, I was introduced to it when I built an app using Silex (a Symfony2 distribution). The special feature of my app was that it allows integration between Silex and Drupal 7.

More recently, I finished another project, which I decided to implement using Symfony2 Standard Edition. Similar to my earlier project, it had the business requirement that it needed tight integration with a Drupal site; so, for this new project, I decided to write a Symfony2 Drupal integration bundle.

Overall, I'm quite impressed with Symfony2 (in its various flavours), and I enjoy coding in it. I've been struggling to enjoy coding in Drupal (and PHP in general) – the environment that I know best – for quite some time. That's why I've been increasingly turning to Django (and other Python frameworks, e.g. Flask), for my dev projects. Symfony2 is a very welcome breath of fresh air in the PHP world.

However, I can't help but think: is Symfony2 "as good as PHP gets"? By that, I mean: Symfony2 appears to have borrowed many of the best practices that have evolved in the non-PHP world, and to have implemented them about as well as they physically can be implemented in PHP (indeed, the same could be said of PHP itself of late). But, PHP being so inferior to most of its competitors in so many ways, PHP implementations are also doomed to being inferior to their alternatives.

01
Aug

Current state of the Cape to Cairo Railway

In the late 19th century, the British-South-African personality Cecil Rhodes dreamed of a complete, uninterrupted railway stretching from Cape Town, South Africa, all the way to Cairo, Egypt. During Rhodes's lifetime, the railway extended as far north as modern-day Zimbabwe – which was in that era known by its colonial name Rhodesia (in honour of Rhodes, whose statesmanship and entrepreneurism made its founding possible). A railway traversing the entire north-south length of Africa was an ambitious dream, for an ambitious man.

Rhodes's dream remains unfulfilled to this day.

The famous

The famous "Rhodes Colossus", superimposed upon the present-day route of the Cape to Cairo Railway.

"The Rhodes Colossus" illustration originally from Punch magazine, Vol. 103, 10 Dec 1892; image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. Africa satellite image courtesy of Google Earth.

Nevertheless, significant additions have been made to Africa's rail network during the interluding century; and, in fact, only a surprisingly small section of the Cape to Cairo route remains bereft of the Iron Horse's footprint.

Although both information about – (a) the historical Cape to Cairo dream; and (b) the history / current state of the route's various railway segments – abound, I was unable to find any comprehensive study of the current state of the railway in its entirety.

This article, therefore, is an endeavour to examine the current state of the full Cape to Cairo Railway. As part of this study, I've prepared a detailed map of the route, which marks in-service sections, abandoned sections, and missing sections. The map has been generated from a series of KML files, which I've made publicly available on GitHub, and for which I welcome contributions in the form of corrections / tweaks to the route.

10
Apr

Money: the ongoing evolution

In this article, I'm going to solve all the monetary problems of the modern world.

Oh, you think that's funny? I'm being serious.

Alright, then. I'm going to try and solve them. Money is a concept, a product and a system that's been undergoing constant refinement since the dawn of civilisation; and, as the world's current financial woes are testament to, it's clear that we still haven't gotten it quite right. That's because getting financial systems right is hard. If it were easy, we'd have done it already.

I'm going to start with some background, discussing the basics such as: what is money, and where does it come from? What is credit? What's the history of money, and of credit? How do central banks operate? How do modern currencies attain value? And then I'm going to move on to the fun stuff: what can we do to improve the system? What's the next step in the ongoing evolution of money and finance?

Disclaimer: I am not an economist or a banker; I have no formal education in economics or finance; and I have no work experience in these fields. I'm just a regular bloke, who's been thinking about these big issues, and reading up on a lot of material, and who would like to share his understandings and his conclusions with the world.

30
Mar

Configuring Silex (Symfony2) and Monolog to email errors

There's a pretty good documentation page on how to configure Monolog to email errors in Symfony2. This, and all other documentation that I could find on the subject, works great if: (a) you're using the Symfony2 Standard Edition; and (b) you want to send emails with Swift Mailer. However, I couldn't find anything for my use case, in which: (a) I'm using Silex; and (b) I want to send mail with PHP's native mail handler (Swift Mailer is overkill for me).

Turns out that, after a bit of digging and poking around, it's not so hard to cobble together a solution that meets this use case. I'm sharing it here, in case anyone else finds themselves with similar needs in the future.

28
Mar

Show a video's duration with Media: YouTube and Computed Field

I build quite a few Drupal sites that use embedded YouTube videos, and my module of choice for handling this is Media: YouTube, which is built upon the popular Media module. The Media: YouTube module generally works great; but on one site that I recently built, I discovered one of its shortcomings. It doesn't let you display a YouTube video's duration.

I thought up a quick, performant and relatively easy way to solve this. With just a few snippets of custom code, and the help of the Computed Field module, showing video duration (in hours / minutes / seconds) for a Media: YouTube managed asset, is a walk in the park.

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