I’m speaking again!

If you haven’t been paying attention, I’m starting to speak again at PHP conferences. The first one is SunshinePHP in Florida. (I figured I needed to see the Sunshine State again before it all goes under water.)

My talk is going to be a case study on recommender systems. It’s a bit of an odd-ball because it’s not PHP-specific, but that’s because the company I worked at was a Ruby-on-Rails shop. It’s okay, it will still have application and ironically the heavy lifting is done in Python and Go. Lol! Trust me, it’ll be a good talk. Data is an important part of any website and this gets you going into how you can use it without all the bullshit “big data” buzzwords.

I really think you should register for the conference and come see the talk. If you are already going, please stop by and say “hi!” I promise, I won’t bite too much. I’ll be there for the entire event and this time I already have my talk 95% done so I won’t be holed up in the hotel room finishing slides. It’s been much too long since I’ve seen anyone in the community, and I’ve got to earn my place on the PHP terrorist deck.

See you in February!

What’s something very few people know about PHP?

Answered in Quora:

Q: What’s something very few people know about PHP?

It is mind-bogglingly popular for web development. That popularity hasn’t diminished even though conventional wisdom says otherwise…

Over a decade ago, I said about 40% of the top 100 websites use PHP — a number I pulled out of my ass — but nobody (not even the Ruby on Rails developers I pissed off) argued with that spurious claim. In 2009, Matt Mullenweg, the creator of WordPress became curious with my claim and did a survey of Quantcast’s top 100 sites — he got almost exactly 40. Even today, among the 10 most important websites, four use PHP as their language of choice — 40% again.

Overall, almost 80% of the internet is powered by PHP, and that has held steady for years! Newer web languages such as Ruby or NodeJS have only grown at the expense of other languages such as ASP, Java, or Perl.

Just one single application written in PHP, WordPress, is used by over 30% of all websites on the entirety of the internet. That’s more than double the market share since back when I last worked at Automattic/WordPress in 2011! It grew until it saturated its entire market — over 60% of all CMSs. In the CMS market as a whole, PHP-based CMSs occupy positions 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8 in the top 10. The most popular non-PHP-based CMS is both closed source and sitting at only a 2.5% share.

It was estimated back in 2009 that there were 5 million PHP developers worldwide. It’s difficult to make this estimate today, but it’s obvious that that number has also held steady or grown.

These last few years, I’ve been commercially working in Ruby (on Rails), GoLang, NodeJS (for static servers), and Python (Django), but PHP is still also my love in that love/hate relationship.

Come see my talk in February 2019 at SunshinePHP in Florida!

What don’t you like about PHP?

Answered in Quora:

Q: What don’t you like about PHP?

It’s a ball of nails with almost no logic to it. From the perspective of software language design — as Tim Bray, co-creator of XML and at the time Directory of Sun Microsystems’s Web Technologies division, once said — “PHP is soul destroying.”

To take one of the most notorious examples: strpos and in_array.

In one, the order of variables is $needle, $haystack in the other it is $haystack, $needle. I challenge even the best PHP developers to remember which it is without a reference. Also, even though they both serve the same purpose they return different things and don’t obey a consistent naming convention: they should be named strpos/arrayin, posinstr/inarray or `str_pos`/`array_in`. That’s three terrible design choices in one single example!

Another example is the namespace separator in PHP is what is an escape sequence everywhere else \\. Why? Because by the time PHP added namespaces, they had run out of ASCII symbols for the lexer.

I could go on and on, but I won’t.

I love the language sometimes because I hate it so much. 😉

Come see my talk in February 2019 at SunshinePHP in Florida!

Which has better packages, Python or PHP?

Answered in Quora

Q: Which has better packages, Python or PHP?

It depends on the target utility. In the Python world, the most common package installer is pip; the PHP world didn’t settle on a dominant format/installation for packages until composer, and that was relatively recently (last 4 years).

The reason for this is because PHP is a language almost exclusively designed for websites, and the economy of the open-source world has found that a dedicated application, instead of a framework or library could serve the bulk of most commercial needs. For instance, a single application, WordPress, four years ago (2014) accounted for nearly 20% of all websites and 50% of all blogs. There is little need package management when a single download and install (or a single click during ISP/hosting account creation or visit to site like Bitnami) can set up everything a typical website might need, fully under your control, with its own package infrastructure (plugin and theme ecosystem) where the underlying language (PHP) is pretty much irrelevant to the user.

Other languages like Ruby (with gems) or Go (import) or Javascript (with npm) which matured later and are more general purpose had a more robust package management and installation system. PHP Composer, in fact, is most modeled on npm.

Python, like Perl, predates these languages, but its general purpose demanded package management early in its development. However, because of this, pip takes less advantage of web conventions that npm does. Python has the added headache of version compatibility with its core runtime. Still pip is perfectly workable and relatively seamless and easy to use.

So which has better packages? The answer is it depends on the domain. In nearly any language you can find an adequate package for any of your needs, but overall you will find the packages are higher quality, more up-to-date, and sometimes just better overall in the domain the language seems to target well.

In my opinion, packages for data science/AI/ML applications, Python packages are second to none. As a PHP expert, I wouldn’t even bother looking in Composer for them and would instead find a PHP extension that binded to a dedicated engine optimized for the problem area or write a dedicated solution/web service in Python/flask and call it from PHP. If, for some crazy reason, I needed to do this entirely within PHP, I would search for the best solution in Python and see if someone has a port for that in PHP.

I would expect the same in DevOps for Python, but right now that space, like blogging (WordPress), seems to have dedicated solutions where a domain-specific language has abstracted one from the language-specific package management solution. For instance, in the configuration management space the top four applications are: Puppet, Chef, Ansible, and SaltStack. Of those four, I believe only one (Chef) exposes the underlying language (Ruby), and it does this to the DevOps engineer no more than WordPress exposes PHP to a blogger.

For server-side web-based packages, I feel PHP and Composer are going to have a solution for any problem PHP itself is capable of solving. That is a restricted set, however, as more and more work for web applications is being done on the client-side in Javascript and there is already an adequate toolchain for that (as well as a package management system in npm). Other web-based languages will probably have adequate solutions in this space with decreasing order/quality: Ruby (on Rails), Javascript (NodeJS), Python, Go, Perl, Java… The web problem is now pretty discovered at this point so there is less a need to adopt the bleeding edge in the web problem.

NaNoWriMo 2016

Ever since Marie wanted to learn to program in 2009, I’ve wanted to write a book to help her. But I never could get started.

The National Novel Writing Month is November every year for just this purpose: to motivate people to put 50,000 words on paper (about the size of the novel, Slaughterhouse-Five), editor be damned.

I first heard about it in 2007, when I started using Scrivener, but dismissed it because the requirement that a novel be fiction. I only just found about NaNo Rebels, which allows you to customize the “50,000 words” into nearly any other creative exercise, including non-fiction. So yesterday, this was born:

NaNoWriMo 2016 Participant Badge

Nowadays, I use Ulysses. I simply created a group in the software and set a 50,000 word goal and started typing away!

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 2

Goal setting on my iPad.

I don’t know if I can finish since it’s about a good sized blog article each and every day. We’ll see how it goes. So far it’s been a bit strange writing a book. For instance, I can’t use my WordPress shortcode macros lest I ruin the word count.

Periodically, I’ll dump the output to my blog, which you can track here. Wish me luck!

If you want to buddy up, I’m “tychay” there.

I come to bury PHP, not to praise it?

(I received an answer request from someone on Quora for this question. At the time of my writing, there were only two answers, both that boiled down to “use Python.” While I feel I was asked to balance out that with some PHP cheerleading, I can’t bring myself to do that. Nor, can I hop on the bandwagon.)

Between PHP and Python which is better for a startup?

My answer reads like a Zen koan: it depends on the nature of the problem; it doesn’t really matter. It becomes the nature for future problems; that makes it matter.

Continue reading an to see that the koan does actually make sense after the jump

Why do Python programmers hate PHP?

Why do Python programmers hate PHP?

I saw a colleague answer this question and thought I’d give a go:

Are sure it’s just Python programmers? I think that relatively speaking Ruby developers and Java developers hate on PHP more (and Perl and Javascript developers less).

From a software language design perspective, the PHP language is an ugly hack. One of the creators of Java said that when he thinks of PHP his heart goes dark (showing a complete black slide in his presentation for emphasis). The more structured the language (and Java and Python certainly are), the more offensive this ugliness is. (Ruby gets this view not from the language but for being the home of a lot of programmers who were trained in Java in school and for Ruby on Rails being a popular framework in the webspace already crowded out by PHP.)

However, there are t-shirts out there of me saying back in 2006, “PHP is a ball of nails, but when you throw it at a wall, it sticks” and that still applies today—it’s ugly, true; but it works. If anything, the language is far more ubiquitous on the web now than then, though that’s mostly due to the popularity of applications written in PHP such as WordPress and Facebook rather than any success in the language itself. The language has proved remarkably successful due to its adaptability and limited focus on what problems it tries to solve.

I imagine that this popularity-in-spite-of-aesthetic-beauty is offensive to those working in the web who think themselves above the direct, simple, and crass. That reality may sit so ill with some people that they feel the need to disparage PHP which becomes an object of their derision and the villain in their story. It’s only natural for a cohort in the minority to feel that way toward a market leader: Apple Macintosh users used to act like that toward Windows PCs, Windows Phone users act this way toward iOS and Android, etc.

The irony is that PHP is a market leader in only one tiny aspect of the programming market: the server-side, non-event-driven web. It has no footprint in the client-side web, none in application space or even the mobile app space, no recognized products in non-web tools and applications; and is just a rounding error in the DevOps space (to pick just one area where Python seems dominant/ascendant). It even makes no pretension to be a programming language to facilitate learning programming (another area Python is better suited to). Since all these areas are growing as the niche PHP represents is static, I find it ironic people still wage language-religious jihad against PHP.

That’s like hating on a horseshoe monopoly after the automobile has been invented.

And I say this as someone who has programmed PHP for 16 years and gives keynote speeches in the language.

On being a beginner (again)

Compiled from three separate discussions on IRC, twitter, and in person:

“Whatcha do with your time these days? Learning Rails? 😈”

I did pick up Objective-C again after an aborted attempt at learning Swift. Mostly I’m trying to catch up on the javascript frameworks that have come out since I stopped coding. Right now it’s AngularJS—I figure I can jury-rig React into it if performance becomes an issue.

On the non-programming side, I’ve been messing with Ansible because I just got tired of doing things by hand—and I never needed to learn this because I’ve always had operations engineers working with me.

The ripping on Rails thing is over with me because there’s no point in arguing over how to solve a solved problem—today, the web problem is the easy part. What I find strange is people still feel the need to defend Ruby on Rails. I mean who the fuck cares what your middle layer code is written in when everything is an API to something written in Javascript?

“I don’t like that everything is an API to something in Javascript. As a user, the Web feels slower and flakier than it used to.”

I don’t like that everything on the front-end is pushed toward a single-page application. The reason for this is that the DOM-based model of front-end javascript (e.g. jQuery) gets so taxing when the application gets big because you’re bolting feature-on-feature, library-on-library to get it to work as smoothly as you envision. At a certain point, a true MV(VM) javascript framework (e.g. AngularJS) gives you much more because it abstracts all that in a consistent manner.

As soon as you buy into one of these, you’re invested into a huge initial javascript payload which causes you to not want the user to leave the page to unload anything, which then forces you into an API-based model with HTML partials and a client-side route/sitemap and more crap in the payload until you have a single-page application.

And then pretty soon your website is like Flickr where I swear every tenth click I’ve got to reload the page because the UI became non-responsive and I’m deciding to open the app in my iPhone just to do something without that frustration. How fucked up is that?

But then I look at Bootstrap and I figure, I’d rather have a SPA than everything looking like it was designed by some Apple-loving hipster (and this coming from a person who has used and loved Apple products longer than they’ve been alive).

“I’ve always enjoyed your talks and lamented that you didn’t remain on the PHP speaking circuit.”

Maybe I’ll start speaking when I have something to say. Like I’ve said before, PHP solves the “web problem” very well, but the web-problem is not a hard problem anymore.

Remember, it’s been four years since I’ve done any UI programming so everything is new to me. Basically, I’m a newbie, and I don’t think anyone wants to hear from someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

But I did notice this from managing engineers: the worst problem a coder can get into is fear of having to start over. You get good at what you’re good at and when things pass you by, you feel the need to protect what you have because its what you know.

That’s how I feel about Ruby on Rails and that’s how I feel about me and PHP.

So, I’m a beginner again.

Pork Tocino

If you live in The Richmond, you know that B*Star Bar is like eating at Burma Superstar but without the line.

Breakfast plate with pork tocino, garlic fried rice topped with two eggs cooked over easy. Spoon in foreground
Pork Tocino with Garlic Fried Rice
B*Star Bar, The Richmond, San Francisco, California, United States

Sony DSC-RX1
0.013 sec (1/80) @ f/4.5, iso400, 35 mm

My favorite brunch dish there is the Pork Tocino. Grilled jerk pork over a bed of garlic fried rice and cherry tomatoes, topped with scallions and balsamic vinegar.

Since Marie loves their Huevos Racheros, I end up ordering this dish a lot. The only times I don’t is when we bring a guest, then I suggest they get it and I order something else.

Continue reading about some WordPress plugin notes after the jump