May 29, 2004

Things have been kind of quiet here at The Developer’s Corner but I’ve been posting fairly regularly over at SM :p But that was mostly because I’ve been moving over from Movable Type to WordPress (WP) as my backend blogging tool over at SM. I’m finally moved over, the data is converted, I’ve even written a plugin for WP and have gotten the usual tweaking associated with a new tool out of my system 🙂 But then, since I used BlogMan to post to SM, I find myself without the ability to compose entries offline now since BlogMan does not support WP and Blog’s support for remote servers is not complete. So it was back to Blog coding with a vengeance :p

However, I was hindered by two things: a) a bug in the HTMLEdit component that drops any images inserted into an entry b) lack of time. The first problem is actually a serious one in that I couldn’t add any images at all in WYSIWYG mode into a blog entry. I’d written to the developer of the HTMLEdit component, Fabian, about two weeks back about this and had heard nothing from him. He’s usually very prompt about responding to bug reports and when I’d not heard from him in a week, I tried again but still no luck. I then tried a kludge to work around the problem and it seemed to work and so I’m going with that for the moment but if Fabian has for some reason dropped off the face of the earth, I’m going to have to look around for a different WYSIWYG HTML editing component before I can complete Blog 8.0 and that’s going to mean redoing a lot of work I’d already done. Ah well …

The second problem, lack of time, is something that I’m always plagued with but recently it’s gotten worse since I’m working for two different organizations at the moment. The second organization is moving into new offices and I’ve been put in charge of procuring and installing all the technical equipment and that has been taking a fair bit of my time. In fact, I’ve been coding Blog in the evenings when I can and since I’m dead tired by that time, don’t be surprised if a few bugs creep into the next release :p

Speaking of the next release, it is going to be big – and I don’t mean the executable size … though that might turn out to be a fair jump from the last release as well :p I’ve had to totally revamp the internal database structures to support the ability to post to remote blogging servers and to try and make the journals totally independent of where they are published to. Plus, the new publishing to remote servers ability meant that I had to re-write the internal publishing code as well. Personally, I think that the revamp was good since it looks and feels much more streamlined now. However, since I still haven’t tested the code thoroughly, it might turn out to be not such a good thing after all. In fact, since I’ve done a lot of restructuring, re-coding etc., the next release is probably going to need a lot of extensive testing to make sure that I didn’t break anything. So, while I hope to have a release out soon, it might turn out that the next release is much, much further away than even I anticipate 🙂

Posted by Fahim at 11:43 am  |  No Comments

May 24, 2004

And then it happens …

I’d tested the WP blacklist plugin quite extensively and it all seemed to work fine on my notebook machine and so I uploaded it yesterday and set it up for this site. And of course, I never tested the plugin on the site since it had worked before :p That is just asking for things to fail and fail they did – and most spectacularly too. Anybody who tried to post a comment probably got hit with a long string of PHP errors and not much else. Ainslie, who’d tried to post a comment earlier and couldn’t (due to a different error – this time due to me trying to set up permalinks with a nice directory structure :p) let me know about the problem and when I tried it, sure enough it wouldn’t work. So tried to fix it on the server itself for a bit. Bad idea! I finally simply turned off the blacklisting on the server and went back to my local machine. I could duplicate one of the PHP errors on the local machine and after a bit, I figured out what was wrong – there was a logical error in the code where I was checking for IP bans. If there were no IP addresses in the ban list (when I originally tested, there was of course an IP address entered for testing purposes), you get a PHP error. I fixed the code, tested on the local machine and it seemed fine. So I upload to the server and try again … another error! So I recreate the blacklist that I use on my local machine off Jay Allen’s blacklist file and try again and this time I get the error on the local machine too :p So I took a look at what was happening and it turns out that the blacklist that I’d originally imported off of had a few of the regular expressions modified so that they wouldn’t throw a fit with PHP. Unfortunately, when I pulled the list from Jay Allen’s site, I got the stuff as Jay Allen had them and PHP seemed to gag on that. I finally figured out how I should modify the fetched blacklist to play nice with PHP and ran through another round of testing and everything seemed to work fine. So back I went to the server with the blacklist and finally it all worked fine 🙂 Ah well, I’m glad that it works fine now – or at least it seems to … So I guess it’s time to add a few more plugins to the mix to see how soon things will break again :p

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Posted by Fahim at 3:34 pm  |  4 Comments

May 23, 2004

The fairest of them all …

Yes, I’ve finally switched … and not only have I switched, but I’ve switched in a big way :p I switched over to using WP yesterday and since then, I’ve updated my install twice – first to the WP 1.2 RC2 that was available for download yesterday and today to the WP 1.2 final. Not only that, I’ve also in this timeframe, written a script to import all of my MT entries, categories, users and comments to WP and a plugin to allow me to blacklist comments posters so as to get rid of all that pesky comment spam.
Sure, there was an existing WP script to import from MT, but I hated how it worked and there was already an existing hack for the blacklist functionality but I hated having to modify the source files and then having to do that again when I upgraded to a newer version – so the plugin takes care of all that nicely 🙂 And now I want to get cracking on Blog so that I can get back to posting here via Blog but that looks as if it might take a while since the blacklist plugin is keeping me busy these days. But then again, the first release of the plugin is ready – I’ve actually installed it here already and it seems to work fine :p So maybe it’s time to move back to Blog …

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Posted by Fahim at 11:54 am  |  1 Comment

May 21, 2004

And the winner is?

Yes, there have been no entries since I said I was thinking of moving to a different publishing platform :p And the reason is that I’ve been busy checking on each of the contenders I mentioned. Incidentally, I should mention that the folks over at pMachine were kind enough to give me a free copy of ExpressionEngine as part of their switch program 🙂 I didn’t really expect to win when I applied but I did and so I gave ExpressionEngine a try as well and while it is all they claim to be, it has a few things missing which made me decide not to go with it. Plus of course, there is the whole "commercial" thing – it’s a commercial app and while I got this release for free, I don’t know if all future upgrades will be free or not and so I’m a bit leery about it. The biggest thing that I missed in ExpressionEngine was the fact that it had no support for an external blogging API. So if I’d switched to EE, then I wouldn’t have been able to blog from BlogMan or Blog any longer.

As for the other contenders, I think I dropped Nucleus at the outset after discovering that their comment spam filtering features weren’t as good as I wanted them to be :p So that left just b2evolution and WordPress. My initial choice was actually b2evolution since it supported multiple blogs and WordPress didn’t but later I learnt that b2evolution’s multiple blogs weren’t really multiple blogs but some form of separating entries using categories – of course, I might be wrong here since it was something I read rather than know for sure due to firsthand experience :p However, it looked as if there was a lot more work being done on WP than on b2evolution and so I settled on WP.

Once I’d settled on WP however, the real work started :p It turned out that WP imported MT entries but first having the user export the MT entries in MT itself and then reading that exported file. However, that didn’t work for me since I’m on a really slow connection at the moment and the export would always fail before it completed. So I decided to write a script which would import the MT entries into WP on the server itself by transferring the records from the tables on the MT database to the tables on the WP database 🙂 It actually ended up being fairly simple to implement but I had to install Apache, PHP, mySQL and phpmyAdmin on my machine before I could get to work :p Once all that was done though, it took me one evening’s work to actually get the script to the working stage and a few more hours of tweaking saw all my MT entries transferred over without any problems (at least that I could see …) to my WP database. Of course, then began the task of converting my WP template to be as close to the MT original as possible but I think I’ve got that covered now as well. All that remains is to put a comments spam moderation system into place and I’m ready to go.

Here’s the kicker – WP has a lot of comment moderation options but I still like Jay Allen’s MT-Blacklist best of all 🙂 I want something like that! Now the thing is, I find I work really well with PHP since it seems to be an extremely intuitive language to me. So, I’m going to work on the code for an existing WP hack which actually works a lot like Jay Allen’s plugin and try to see if I can actually make it a plugin for WP. If I can (or once I decide I just can’t do it or it’s too much work :p) then I’ll do the final bit of switching over to WP. Till then bear with my comments on switching :p

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Posted by Fahim at 8:10 am  |  7 Comments

May 17, 2004

Movable Type and Moving My Typing :p

As you are probably aware, I use Movable Type to maintain this weblog. At least, it is MT which handles the actual publishing though I do use my own offline application (BlogMan) to do the composing of the entries and getting them to the server :p The folks over at Six Apart (they are the ones who develop MT) have been talking about a new release of MT – 3.0 – for a while now and I’ve been looking forward to the new release myself. The first pre-public release – they call it a Developer Edition – was announced over the weekend and a veritable storm broke over major parts of the blogging universe :p

The reason? Ben and Mena Trott – the folks behind Six Apart and MT – had decided to go over to a paid model for this iteration of MT. Unlike a lot of the people who use MT, I am neither personally acquainted with Ben or Mena nor do I use MT that much – it is simply the backend handler for SM since I actually do all of the posting from my own application. However, I do like MT and the features it provides. On the other hand, the limitations of the free release under the 3.0 licensing does make me wonder about continuing to use MT and I’m already looking for replacements. This however is a personal decision based on the fact that the free version of MT might be too limited for me to continue to use it and the fact that future license changes to MT might mean that the free version will be even further feature-atrophied.

As far as Ben and Mena’s own decision regarding MT 3.0, I’m kinda divided. A lot of people seem to feel that Ben and Mena lied to them and that they were being devious in their later decision to change some of the original terms after they were released. I personally don’t think this is the case. Granted that I don’t know the people involved, their concern over having to switch over to a paying model seems to be genuine. But switch they must if they are to survive – this too I understand. As a software developer, I can understand the problems they face. On the other hand, I do think that charging US$ 100 for a personal package which doesn’t give that much more than the free version is a bit excessive as well – especially given that the new release of MT 3.0 does not have that many features added. Yes, there are a lot of changes behind the scenes that will mean more goodies in the future – but nothing for your average user just yet.

Then again, on the other hand, this *is* called a Developer Edition and is aimed mainly at the developer and so the average user shouldn’t really get bent out of shape – not till they do the public release and continue to charge them large sums of money for not many features added :p It really seems to be one of those grey areas that cannot be really categorized as one or the other – there are too many variables … not to mention all the heated emotion that gets in the way of cool thinking. But I do wish Ben and Mena best of luck in trying to take MT along on a new direction.
As far as I’m concerned, I’ll switch to something new soon. I’m looking at a few alternatives at the moment but the one I choose must meet a few criteria that is important to *me*. What are they? Well, first of all, it should be able to import my existing MT entries and comments :p Then, it should support the Blogger API or the MetaBlog API so that I can connect to it via Blog or BlogMan to continue to post offline. Next, it should support comment spam filtering and blacklisting since I seem to get a lot of that stuff :p Finally, it would be nice if it supported a few of the template tags and the calendar feature from MT that I kinda like … but that last is not a must 🙂

Of course, before people suggest (does anybody even read these entries anymore anyway? :p) alternatives, I guess I must mention what I’m looking at, at the moment 🙂 The top three contenders on my list are: WordPress, Nucleus and b2evolution. Each one has strengths and weaknesses but I believe all of them are open source projects and so hopeufully will not suffer the same fate as MT. There is a fourth contender, ExpressionEngine, but that is a commercial application. However, they do seem to be taking advantage of the current furore over MT and are running a sort of competition where the first 1000 people to send them an e-mail get a copy of ExpressionEngine for free :p

Incidentally, I’m not looking at the core or base install of WordPress or Nucleus :p Instead, I’m looking at Wuh Wuh, a souped up version of WordPress, and Nucleus Extreme. I’ll keep you posted as to my findings 🙂

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Posted by Fahim at 9:12 am  |  2 Comments

May 12, 2004

No, I haven’t stopped development and gone into hibernation again :p In fact, I’ve been updating stuff over at SM fairly regularly (yeah, that was a shameless plug :p) But I did have to stop development for a while since we had a lot of holidays and I got caught up in watching movies and doing other fun stuff but then I did get back to development but hit a sudden snag – images in the HTMLEdit component started disappearing on me :p I have written to the author of the component about this but haven’t heard from him about it and am sort of waiting on him. Actually, I just read something on his site which might provide the answer to the problem but I have no idea when this particular feature mentioned on the developer’s site was implemented because I don’t remember it being there originally when I stared working with HTMLEdit – but then again, my memory isn’t always perfect :p

Incidentally I know that some have been suggesting that I should drop the HTMLEdit component altogether since there were problems with it but please bear in mind that both the HTMLEdit component itself and Blog 8.0 are in beta at the moment and that we’ll get all these problems ironed out by the time the final release rolls around. So bear with me while we slowly (but surely) fix these things one by one 🙂

Posted by Fahim at 8:55 am  |  No Comments

May 10, 2004

Humanity, Humility and Arrogance

Before I launch into my tirade, here is something which seems to aptly illustrate what I was talking about in my entry yesterday – men seem to have way too much fun out of life … at least the ones I know of :p

I’ve been trying to keep away from the news and from thinking or commenting about what is going on in the world today because it is just so depressing. Plus, it would probably sound a lot like another "Islamic" attack on the US in most cases :p However, the latest turn of events in Iraq especially makes me want to say something really badly and so I decided to go ahead and write this after having had these thoughts percolating through my brain for about a week.

The first thought that came to my mind when the furore broke out over the torture of Iraqi prisoners by coalition forces was the fact how everybody seemed to be shocked by the fact that it was the *US* soldiers who did it. It seemed to be as if that everybody expected the US to act better than everybody else and it was shocking that the US soldiers would prove to be as human as the rest of us. All I can say is that everybody should have expected this. While I like to believe in the capacity for greatness in humanity, all we mostly see is humanity descending to the lowest levels when opportunity is presented to them and given all that, why should anybody have expected the situation in Iraq to be any different? Basically, the US soldiers are as human (and in this case, I use the term in the most negative context) as any of the rest of the world. Given that they find themselves in a position of power over others who they’d been told wanted to destroy their country, their way of life etc. (and here, I blame the propaganda by the US government but then again that too is not something just specific to the US – it is something that everybody is guilty of …), it is no surprise that they decide to humiliate this "enemy" that they now find within their power. All too human. And all so depressing when you consider what it says about humanity as a whole.

I don’t blame the US as a nation for what happened in Iraq because were the situations reversed, probably much the same would have happened. I do find the rest of the world seeming to think that it suddenly is a heinous thing because the "US" did this as opposed to somebody else. Wake up people! This sort of things happens everyday in the world!

I however do think that the attitude of the US government had at least some influence in bringing about this situation and I find their attitude even in the face of the current situation quite disturbing. From what I could gather from the news reports, US president George Bush wouldn’t say that he was sorry about what happened. Yes, maybe I could be accused of being contradictory here in that I said that this sort of thing happened everyday and it was not special as far as the US was concerned and then I turn around and say that Bush should apologize. But what I meant here was that I find Bush’s refusal to apologize very arrogant. I realize that he has since apologized several times but at first, he wouldn’t apologize at all and then when he first mentioned the word "sorry" he actually said it along the lines of "I told King Abdullah (of Jordan) that I was sorry" and not a direct "I am sorry for what has been done by my country men". I find that extremely arrogant on the part of the US president – but then again, that seems to have been the most consistent attitude that he has displayed throughout his presidency. Let’s hope his successors learn a little humility. When one is the leader of supposedly the greatest nation on earth (so they keep on saying :p) – one must learn to be a little humble. Or perhaps I am hoping for something that isn’t possible in this world we live in?

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Posted by Fahim at 8:55 am  |  2 Comments

May 9, 2004

Peter Pan the boy-man

Watched "Peter Pan" yesterday with Laurie. Actually, we started on the movie the day before but stopped half-way since there were other things to watch on the telly :p Anyway, it has been a long time since I read the original book and I’d forgotten most parts and in the interim, the image that had stayed with me had mostly been the Disney version and not the original. Now that I’ve seen the movie, I actually saw the story in a new light – not sure if the original book had the same perspective or if the movie maker had given the story a new twist or if it’s just me …

Whatever the case may be, this time around I saw the tale of Peter Pan more as a parable or an allegory. Peter Pan seemed to symbolize all males – never wanting to grow up, always eager to have fun but not ready to have feelings, to be hurt. And Wendy seemed to epitomize womanhood, always wanting a man instead of a boy, somebody who would love her and not just be a playmate 🙂 One of my favourite lines from the movie was Peter saying "I taught you to fight and to fly. What more do you want?" And sometimes I find myself echoing his words, "what more indeed?"

I don’t know about everybody – whether all males never want to grow up and to be honest, I’m not really certain that what most of the world calls growing up is really growing up. It’s all in the perspective. Is becoming hard, mercenary, cynical and suspicious growing up? Some people seem to think so. Is being selfish and thinking of oneself before others growing up? Some people seem to think that too. If that is growing up, I’d rather retain the innocence of childhood. However, I believe that some of us are lucky enough to retain a part of ourselves from our childhood and yet be able to adapt to the so called adult world as well, while there are others who never grow up at all and then again, there are a lot of people who seem to completely grow up and forget all about their childhood. But even this, is all in the perspective of each person since "grown up" is such a subjective term :p

May 8, 2004

Interruptions and holidays …

You start blogging again in earnest hoping to post at least every other day and what happens? You have a long weekend which lasts for like five days, that’s what happens :p Honestly, Sri Lanka is probably the country with the most holidays in the world! This time, the holidays went on from Friday the 30th of April to the middle of this week – Wednesday to be exact. When I got back to work on Thursday of course, I was flooded with stuff to do after such a long break. What else is new? :p
Of course, I had been planning to do a lot of stuff over the holidays but as usually happens with the plans of mice and men, I never actually got around to doing most of it – especially my coding :p Did manage to catch a few of the movies which have been lying around waiting for me to watch them though. Actually, that was mostly due to the fact that we’d recently gotten a new stack of movies and wanted to get through the lot before I totally forgot about them 🙂 So what’d I watch? Actually, I forget most of them now though I do recall that there were a few Hindi movies in there. Did watch the Kevin Costner starrer "Open Range" but found it to be a bit tedious. The story was OK I guess but seemed to plod on a bit at times and Costner’s propensity to have wide panoramic shots at times gets to be a bit too much :p

I also watched Tarantino’s "Kill Bill Volume I" in anticipation of getting my hands on a good DVD copy of volume II soon. Now if you are the squeamish type and don’t like to see blood spurting out all over the place like a hundred fire hydrants that had their tops knocked off, then you really shouldn’t be watching this movie. I normally don’t like movies with a lot of violence but then again, that is usually when the story is dark and moody and the violence is somehow "real". Here, the violence is so over the top that it seems comical or cartoonish and I just enjoyed the show to its fullest 🙂 I loved the improbable fight scenes and the way over the top storyline and am looking forward to watching the second volume whenever a good DVD copy comes out – the movie is too good for me to go out and grab one of those crappy camera copies, thank you very much :p

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Posted by Fahim at 12:21 pm  |  No Comments