Thoughts

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29
May

Introducing the Drupal Template Field Variables module

Drupal 7's new Field API is a great feature. Unfortunately, theming an entity and its fields can be quite a daunting task. The main reason for this, is that the field variables that get passed to template files are not particularly themer-friendly. Themers are HTML markup and CSS coders; they're not PHP or Drupal coders. When themers start writing their node--page.tpl.php file, all they really want to know is: How do I output each field of this page [node type], exactly where I want, and with minimal fuss?

It is in the interests of improving the Drupal Themer Experience, therefore, that I present the Template Field Variables module. (As the project description says,) this module takes the mystery out of theming fieldable entities. For each field in an entity, it extracts the values that you actually want to output (from the infamous "massive nested arrays" that Drupal provides), and it puts those values in dead-simple variables.

23
May

Flattening many-to-many fields for MySQL to CSV export

Relational databases are able to store, with minimal fuss, pretty much any data entities you throw at them. For the more complex cases – particularly cases involving hierarchical data – they offer many-to-many relationships. Querying many-to-many relationships is usually quite easy: you perform a series of SQL joins in your query; and you retrieve a result set containing the combination of your joined tables, in denormalised form (i.e. with the data from some of your tables being duplicated in the result set).

A denormalised query result is quite adequate, if you plan to process the result set further – as is very often the case, e.g. when the result set is subsequently prepared for output to HTML / XML, or when the result set is used to populate data structures (objects / arrays / dictionaries / etc) in programming memory. But what if you want to export the result set directly to a flat format, such as a single CSV file? In this case, denormalised form is not ideal. It would be much better, if we could aggregate all that many-to-many data into a single result set containing no duplicate data, and if we could do that within a single SQL query.

This article presents an example of how to write such a query in MySQL – that is, a query that's able to aggregate complex many-to-many relationships, into a result set that can be exported directly to a single CSV file, with no additional processing necessary.

10
May

Enriching user-entered HTML markup with PHP parsing

I recently found myself faced with an interesting little web dev challenge. Here's the scenario. You've got a site that's powered by a PHP CMS (in this case, Drupal). One of the pages on this site contains a number of HTML text blocks, each of which must be user-editable with a rich-text editor (in this case, TinyMCE). However, some of the HTML within these text blocks (in this case, the unordered lists) needs some fairly advanced styling – the kind that's only possible either with CSS3 (using, for example, nth-child pseudo-selectors), with JS / jQuery manipulation, or with the addition of some extra markup (for example, some first, last, and first-in-row classes on the list item elements).

Naturally, IE7+ compatibility is required – so, CSS3 selectors are out. Injecting element attributes via jQuery is a viable option, but it's an ugly approach, and it may not kick in immediately on page load. Since the users will be editing this content via WYSIWYG, we can't expect them to manually add CSS classes to the markup, or to maintain any markup that the developer provides in such a form. That leaves only one option: injecting extra attributes on the server-side.

When it comes to HTML manipulation, there are two general approaches. The first is Parsing HTML The Cthulhu Way (i.e. using Regular Expressions). However, you already have one problem to solve – do you really want two? The second is to use an HTML parser. Sadly, this problem must be solved in PHP – which, unlike some other languages, lacks an obvious tool of choice in the realm of parsers. I chose to use PHP5's built-in DOMDocument library, which (from what I can tell) is one of the most mature and widely-used PHP HTML parsers available today. Here's my code snippet.

21
Apr

Argentina: ¿que onda?

A few days ago, Argentina decided to nationalise YPF, which is the largest oil company operating in the country. It's doing this by expropriating almost all of the YPF shares currently owned by Spanish firm Repsol. The move has resulted in Spain — and with it, the entire European Union — condemning Argentina, and threatening to relatiate with trade sanctions.

This is the latest in a long series of decisions that Argentina has made throughout its modern history, all of which have displayed: hot-headed nationalist sentiment; an arrogant and apathetic attitude towards other nations; and utter disregard for diplomatic and economic consequences. As with previous decisions, it's also likely that this one will ultimately cause Argentina more harm than good.

I think it's time to ask: Argentina, why do you keep shooting yourself in the foot? Argentina, are you too stubborn, are you too proud, or are you just plain stupid? Argentina, ¿que onda?

02
Nov

Django Facebook user integration with whitelisting

It's recently become quite popular for web sites to abandon the tasks of user authentication and account management, and to instead shoulder off this burden to a third-party service. One of the big services available for this purpose is Facebook. You may have noticed "Sign in with Facebook" buttons appearing ever more frequently around the 'Web.

The common workflow for Facebook user integration is: user is redirected to the Facebook login page (or is shown this page in a popup); user enters credentials; user is asked to authorise the sharing of Facebook account data with the non-Facebook source; a local account is automatically created for the user on the non-Facebook site; user is redirected to, and is automatically logged in to, the non-Facebook site. Also quite common is for the user's Facebook profile picture to be queried, and to be shown as the user's avatar on the non-Facebook site.

This article demonstrates how to achieve this common workflow in Django, with some added sugary sweetness: maintaning a whitelist of Facebook user IDs in your local database, and only authenticating and auto-registering users who exist on this whitelist.

27
Oct

A blood pledge to never vote for Tony Abbott

This is a pledge in blood this man will go.

This is a pledge in blood this man will go.

Two weeks ago, the Gillard government succeeded in passing legislation for a new carbon tax through the lower house of the Australian federal parliament. Shortly after, opposition leader Tony Abbott made a "pledge in blood", promising that: "We will repeal the tax, we can repeal the tax, we must repeal the tax".

The passing of the carbon tax bill represents a concerted effort spanning at least ten years, made possible by the hard work and the sacrifice of numerous Australians (at all levels, including at the very top). Australia is the highest per-capita greenhouse gas emitter in the developed world. We need climate change legislation enactment urgently, and this bill represents a huge step towards that endeavour.

I don't usually publish direct political commentary here. Nor do I usually name and shame. But I feel compelled to make an exception in this case. For me, Tony Abbott's response to the carbon tax can only possibly be addressed in one way. He leaves us with no option. If this man has sworn to repeal the good work that has flourished of late, then the solution is simple. Tony Abbott must never lead this country. The consequences of his ascension to power would be, in a nutshell, diabolical.

So, join me in making a blood pledge to never vote for Tony Abbott.

11
Oct

Geeks vs hippies

The duel to end them all. Who shall prevail?

The duel to end them all. Who shall prevail?

Geeks. The socially awkward, oft-misunderstood tech wizzes that are taking over the world. And hippies. The tree-huggin', peace-n-lovin' ragtags that are trying to save the world, one spliff at a time.

I've long considered myself to be a member of both these particular minority groups, to some extent. I'm undoubtedly quite a serious case of geek; and I also possess strong hippie leanings, at the least. And I don't believe I'm alone, either. Nay — the Geekius Hippius is, in fact, a more common species than you might at first think.

I present here a light-hearted comparison of these two breeds. Needless to say, readers be warned: this article contains high level stereotyping.

04
Oct

Don't trust Facebook with your data

It's been five years since it opened its doors to the general public; and, despite my avid hopes that it DIAF, the fact is that Facebook is not dead yet. Far from it. The phenomenon continues to take the world by storm, now ranking as the 2nd most visited web site in the world (after Google), and augmenting its loyal ranks with every passing day.

I've always hated Facebook. I originally joined not out of choice, but out of necessity, there being no other way to contact numerous friends of mine who had decided to boycott all alternative methods of online communication. Every day since joining, I've remained a reluctant member at best, and an open FB hater to say the least. The recent decisions of several friends of mine to delete their FB account outright, brings a warm fuzzy smile to my face. I haven't deleted my own FB account — I wish I could; but unfortunately, doing so would make numerous friends of mine uncontactable to me, and numerous social goings-on unknowable to me, today as much as ever.

There are, however, numerous features of FB that I have refused to utilise from day one, and that I highly recommend that all the world boycott. In a nutshell: any feature that involves FB being the primary store of your important personal data, is a feature that you should reject outright. Facebook is an evil company, and don't you forget it. They are not to be trusted with the sensitive and valuable data that — in this digital age of ours — all but defines who you are.

18
Jul

World domination by box office cinema admissions

It's no secret that Hollywood is the entertainment capital of the world. Hollywood blockbuster movies are among the most influential cultural works in the history of humanity. This got me thinking: exactly how many corners of the globe have American movies spread to; and to what extent have they come to dominate entertainment in all those places? Also, is Hollywood really as all-powerful a global cinema force as we believe; or does it have some bona fide competition these days?

I spent a bit of time recently, hunting for sets of data that could answer these questions in an expansive and meaningful way. And I'm optimistic that what I've come up with satisfies both of those things: in terms of expansive, I've got stats (admittedly of varying quality) for most of the film-watching world; and in terms of meaningful, I'm using box office admission numbers, which I believe are the most reliable international measure of film popularity.

07
Jul

Kosher and the Land that G-d forgot

Per the laws of kashrut, the Jewish religion prohibits the consumption of meat from many animals and birds. Islam's laws of halal enact very similar prohibitions.

Australia and New Zealand are two countries located very far from the Middle East, the home of Judaism and Islam. Their native wildlife is completely different to that found anywhere else in the world. Of course, since European settlement began, they've been thoroughly introduced to the fauna of the wider world. Indeed, these two countries are today famous for being home to some of the world's largest sheep and cattle populations.

However, let's put aside the present-day situation for now, and take ourselves back in time a thousand or so years. Artificial transcontinental animal transportation has not yet begun. The world's animals still live in the regions that G-d ordained for them to live in. G-d has peppered almost every corner of the globe with at least some variety of kosher birds and mammals. Every major world region, bar one.

My fellow Aussies and Kiwis, I'm afraid the verdict is clear: we are living in the Land that G-d forgot.

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