Monday, July 29, 2013

NEPHP 2013: Don't Be STUPID, Grasp SOLID

This may be getting boring, but too bad... there are so many talks to see at Northeast PHP this year!

Anthony Ferrara is giving a talk this year titled 'Don't be STUPID, Grasp SOLID' (see and

This is another one of those talks that I think I need to concretely square away some issues I've been having with my code lately. When I first started writing code, I always had small, compact functions. However, somewhere between here and there I lost my way.

I started cramming random meaning into particular function parameters, for example. Depending on the combination of 46 different parameters, the function would do one of 2,500 things... just because it seemed right to use the same function name. This may be because of PHP's lack of function overloading, or it may not. Either way, I realise now how stupid it all was.

Elsewhere, my code started pulling in random static classes, using singletons from static function calls and the like... this is all bad news when you start realising the benefits of unit testing, for example, but in reality, and in my older age, I've realised it's just bad news no matter what.

So like I say: I've started to come back around to smaller functions and classes and already it's made a huge impact on the way I work. I can honestly say that changing that particular approach to my coding has probably saved me more time and given me more safety than any other 'tweak' I've done to my 'style' in the last 5 years. And now that I have a taste for it, I'm looking for more!

Other than the actual topic, I've heard some awesome things about Anthony himself, so it'll be great just to see him talk anyway.

Hopefully you will too!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

NEPHP 2013: You Can UX Too: Avoiding the Programmer's User Interface

Just another talk I want to see in Boston this year at Northeast PHP 2013...

This talk is on a track that I must admit, I know pretty much nothing about. And to be honest, until recently I've tried to avoid it. But no longer! User Experience (UX) is definitely something I need to be on top of and conferences, talks and workshops are a perfect way to get on the way.

With this in mind, I'm looking forward to the talk 'You Can UX Too: Avoiding the Programmer's User Interface', to be given by Eryn O'Neil. If you want details, check out either or

The reason this is going to be on the top of my 'UX exposure list' is specifically because it speaks directly to me. I am a programmer, no doubt about it, and this talk is addressing the simple (and dare I say obvious?) fact that UX is a problem for programmers. I'm really looking forward to getting an idea of how to take off my coding hat and stick on my UX hat easily, and hopefully more often.

For what it's worth, I'm not saying that I don't want to see any of the other UX talks. On the contrary, this whole realm of software is completely foreign to me and I really need to correct that.

And dare I give kudos to the conference itself for making sure to include this UX track? It's going to be fantastic to have such a wide audience at the one place... I'm looking forward to getting to talk to these 'UX-aware' attendees and finally being able to get an idea of how it all works.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

NEPHP 2013: Agile in the Workplace

So another talk I'm looking forward to seeing this year at Northeast PHP is 'Agile in the Workplace', to be given by Michael Stowe (more details at and

To understand why I'm going to find this talk interesting, you have to know that I tend to be one of those people that learns way more through practical examples than I ever do through theory.

The concepts intrigue me, however all the reading in the world is not going to make it all fall together without real life exposure. Unfortunately that would mean finding and working with a group that practices agile correctly... which is not really an option for me. So instead, I'll take the second best thing: I'm going to listen to someone talking about it, and no doubt listen to stories about practical examples.

I'm looking forward to hearing the good and the bad about the process, and ways that I can avoid following those bad practices. For what it's worth, the reason I highlighted the word 'correctly' above is because from what I understand, 'agile' can very easily be a word that gets thrown around by groups, without actually being agile. Every story I've heard about these groups tends to imply that there is a very painful lesson to be learned about the difference between being agile and thinking you're being agile.

Hopefully, too, there may be a way to correctly ease a team into an agile workflow, which I believe would help everyone by being an evolution as opposed to a revolution.

Either way, I say 'viva la agile'. Or something like that... My French is not so good.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Could Second Item Auctions be Used for Ticket Sales?

Every time a big concert, game, show or whatnot goes on sale, we invariably read people complaining about scalpers taking all of the tickets and then jacking up the prices.

Firstly, let me try and summarise my take on both sides of the argument. The anti-scalper argument is that because scalpers are buying as many tickets as possible, and because their business revolves around the fact that they can get these tickets, it means that the scalpers are going to always try and be first to buy, and have a financial incentive to do so. That is to say, the fans have less of a chance to buy the tickets.

The pro-scalper argument is that basically it's the free market, baby! When scalpers can buy and sell tickets for a profit, then that indicates that the original ticket price was 'wrong', in that the sellers were leaving money on the table so to speak.

So with that being my understanding of the problem, I ask: what would happen if tickets were sold off in the form of a second item auction? A second item auction is when you are auctioning more than one identical item, and basically the winners are those people that bid the most... with the 'twist' being that all winners only pay the lowest winning bid.

For what it's worth, I always thought this was called a Dutch auction, but that link to Wikipedia actually says that a second item auction can be confused with a Dutch auction, so I don't feel so bad...

So off the bat, this sounds like a horrible idea: in theory the scalpers are cut out of the process, as those people that are willing to spend big will do that directly with the seller. The fans are probably screwed out of the process too, though, as they are likely going to be outbid.

Over time, though, I wonder if the prices would fall, as there is going to be a group of people that are bidding higher than they would like, just to make sure they get to go to the show? In my head, at least, I think that as this goes on for a little bit and scalpers are essentially squeezed out of the market, these people will find that they can slowly lower their bids and still get tickets.

Either way, it would definitely remove a lot of the incentive for the scalpers, and would even remove the argument for the existence of them: the whole 'the price is not what the market is willing to bear'.

And who knows? Maybe the other fans will be happier, just knowing that there isn't someone there, buying tickets from under them simply to make money. Or not...

Monday, July 22, 2013

NEPHP 2013 Talks: How To Get There

Just another post, keeping hungry for the Northeast PHP conference this coming August in Boston...

What I could only assume is due to the alignment of a number of stars, I see that Larry Ullman is giving a talk titled 'How To Get There' (more details at and

Lately I have been feeling more and more like I'm not at my peak. I should be better, bigger and more valuable than I am. This is hopefully going to be one of those talks that slaps me in the face and gets me to wake up and push through.

The funny thing about these motivational talks, I find, is the fact that simply by me acknowledging that I want to see this talk pushes me further. Which is awesome.

Even still, I really can't way to see Larry talk. Along with his other talks 'Ajax: You Can Do It Too' and 'Teaching PHP & Web Development' I foresee a day when Larry may have his own track at NEPHP and to be honest, I'd probably end up seeing all of it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NEPHP 2013 Talks: Package Management in PHP

The Northeast PHP Conference is coming up, and to keep myself motivated and on the edge of my seat, I figured I might write about some of the talks and workshops I'm looking forward to...

One of the talks that I'm really excited to see at NEPHP is titled "Package Management in PHP: Better Late than Never!" (you can see it at and

To be honest, I don't think I have to say much on this at all. As far as I'm concerned, if you don't understand the premise then that's a great sign that you have something interesting to look into. If you do understand it and don't care, then I believe that you're on the wrong path.

The description itself explains the crux of the issue: a lot of current (and some not so current) languages already have similar tools for managing the packages that you use in your code, and it's great to see some advancements in this field for PHP.

Don't get me wrong: PEAR was a pretty good start, but it seems as though every attempt at improving that process seemed to fail, until now with Composer and Packagist.

A simple command line tool that lets you easily dictate the required versions of libraries and then takes care of grabbing them (and their dependencies!), storing them in your project and even managing upgrades? Count me in!

While on the one hand we have Composer, that manages these packages, it has to get them from somewhere, and while it can get them from practically anywhere, we look to the other hand and we find Packagist. Packagist is quickly becoming the 'go to' place for these libraries. It's almost like the new PEAR site, or Perl's CPAN. So put these two together and suddenly we have an easy way to find packages, and then an easy way to manage them in our own projects.

It's becoming more and more obvious that we will be using more and more of these focussed packages for single purposes as time goes by, and keeping track of all of that will be a nightmare without something like this. If you're not at least trying to use these packages, then let's face it: you're probably wasting time re-inventing the wheel.

As I mentioned earlier, Composer really is picking up steam and I'm loving the fact that frameworks such as Symfony 2 (and it's little brother Silex) are using it as the go to system for managing their own packages.

I hope I sound as excited as I actually am for this stuff: it's an awesome development for successful code reuse that's spreading across entirely separate projects and all of a sudden PHP developers are OK with reaching outside of their own source tree to find something that works well and works now.

Hat's off to the Composer and Packagist teams, and I can't wait to see Sequoia McDowell's talk at Northeast PHP this year.

Hopefully I'll see you there too!

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My Take on the Marshmallow Experiment

I just finished reading an article that apparently explains "What Marshmallows Tell Us About Silicon Valley". It's a take on the classic Stanford Marshmallow Experiment.

On and off, I have considered what I would have done if I were in that situation... and what would I do if I were in that situation now?

I honestly believe that it doesn't matter when it took place, I am 99% certain that if the 'marshmallows' offered were basically of equal value to me, I would eat the first one then and there.

Apparently that implies that I have little patience and not much self-control. While that is true to an extent (I mean, everyone can point to moments in their lives when that is true), I don't believe that is the reason for me eating the marshmallows straight away.

For me, it's a lot simpler: firstly, I don't really care that much for 'more candy' and as far as I can remember, I never have. For me, a second marshmallow in 15 minutes time just seems like a stupid thing to wait for... but then that may be what the experiment proves. Secondly, however, is something that I think more defines why I would not wait.

I was raised to believe that expecting a 'host' to have to do more work for me is unacceptable (where in this case, the host was the experimenter). As far as I'm concerned, a host provides their guests with a venue to facilitate a good time. Although they probably will have food, drink, music or whatever, I've never been to someone's home and then complained after leaving "man, they could have at least offered me a coffee!"

When I was a boy and my friends would come over, my parents made sure that they all knew to "make yourself at home". That means to feel comfortable and if you want something to eat or drink and it's not been offered, that doesn't mean that you have to go without. As my parents would say "you're a big boy... use your legs!".

On a tangent now, but I don't want to give the impression that our home was "that place" where everyone just raised themselves. Quite the opposite, actually. "Make yourself at home" meant "you're part of the family", not "treat this place as the place you live in". Therefore, conversely, if you didn't want to be part of our extended family, that was fine... just don't expect us to offer you the same courtesies. That meant some interesting interactions between my friends and my parents at times... but at least everyone knew where everyone stood!

Anyway, back to the marshmallows. If I am a guest somewhere and I am offered something, with the option of more later, then for me it would just be rude to expect my host to then have to go out of their way to organise the extra stuff. If it was already prepared and they actually wanted me to have it, they would have offered it to begin with. Anything other than that and they were obviously just being nice and I would obviously not want to put them out. If I wanted another marshmallow, surely I should get one myself at a time and place that's more convenient to everyone.

So, long story short: as far as I'm concerned, the reason I would take the marshmallow today has only a little to do with impulse control, and mainly all to do with the fact that I would consider it rude to have the host have to get me something else later on. Instead, stop worrying about me, sit down and have one yourself!

Oh yeah, and you could at least offer me a coffee :)