When did dependency management get so complicated?

This evening I wanted to start hacking on a project of mine, which is a simple WordPress theme. My main development machine was being used by somebody else, so I decided to boot up my old Sony Vaio running Ubuntu. It’ll be simple, I thought. I’ve just got to clone the repo, run npm install, bower install, and grunt build, and I’ll be good to go. I was wrong.

First, the version of npm installed on the laptop is apparently so out-of-date that it can’t run the install. So I let it update itself (and all the other packages I have installed – why not?) with sudo npm -g update. Being a Sunday night, my broadband connection is running spectacularly slow, so the update process takes about 10 minutes at 40kB/s. But hey, at least now I can run npm install, right?

Nope. Now npm is throwing some errors with unhelpful messages, but that’s fine, I’ll just trawl through the error log. 5 minutes later, I figure out that ~/tmp belongs to root (probably from running npm update as root). Ok, fine, I’ll change the permissions and try again. This time npm install works! But of course, my connection is so horribly slow and grunt has so many dependencies that the install process takes over 15 minutes. (more…)

Blazing fast WordPress with Nginx and Memcached

Inspired by Eric Mann’s post on caching WordPress with Redis, I thought I’d experiment with a similar setup using Memcached. Any memory caching system should work just as well, but I’ve chosen Memcached because it’s already running on my server and because PHP already has a built-in libmemcached API.

My current setup is Nginx and PHP-FPM, with WP Super Cache. The cache is saved to the filesystem, allowing Nginx to serve static files (which it is very good at) without needing to pass any requests to PHP. This setup has worked very well, so I’ll be using it as a baseline.

To use Memcached, every request needs to be passed to PHP. My gut feeling was that this would be slower than serving static files with Nginx due to the overhead of spinning up a PHP process for each request.

Benchmarks

To find out which of the two setups was faster, I measured the following metrics using WebPagetest and Blitz (referral link):

(more…)

Increasing the size of the LISH console

If you’ve used Linode’s LISH console to get remote access to your server, you’re probably familiar with the way the console wraps everything to 60×20 (columns x rows) – even when you’re connected via ssh in a much larger terminal.

LISH Wrapping

Everything looks fine until…

LISH Wrapping

… The terminal wraps on itself

Luckily, the fix is easy. The LISH console is essentially emulating a raw serial port connected to the server. The serial port itself has no natural size, so the terminal gives it a default safe size (60×20). We can tell the terminal to change this size, using the stty command:

stty cols 200 rows 75

It’s as simple as that. Just set the cols and rows values to whatever size suits you.

If you’re having to do this a lot, you might consider putting this into your ~/.bashrc so that it runs each time you open a connection.

Understanding JavaScript: Inheritance and the prototype chain

This is the first post in a series on JavaScript. In this post I’m going to explain how JavaScript’s prototype chain works, and how you can use it to achieve inheritance.

First, it’s important to understand that while JavaScript is an object-oriented language, it is prototype-based and does not implement a traditional class system. Keep in mind that when I mention a class in this post, I am simply referring to JavaScript objects and the prototype chain – more on this in a bit.

Almost everything in JavaScript is an object, which you can think of as sort of like associative arrays – objects contain named properties which can be accessed with obj.propName or obj['propName']. Each object has an internal property called prototype, which links to another object. The prototype object has a prototype object of its own, and so on – this is referred to as the prototype chain. If you follow an object’s prototype chain, you will eventually reach the core Object prototype whose prototype is null, signalling the end of the chain.

So what is the prototype chain used for? When you request a property which the object does not contain, JavaScript will look down the prototype chain until it either finds the requested property, or until it reaches the end of the chain. This behaviour is what allows us to create “classes”, and implement inheritance. (more…)

Stop posting jobs for “hackers”

I understand what people mean when they say that they want to hire a hacker. It means that they want to hire a developer; probably one who is enthusiastic and good at solving problems. The thing is, to me, the term hacker is no different from terms like rock star or ninja. When I see these terms in a job advertisement, a few red flags are raised in my mind:

You’re probably a start-up

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it often means that whoever posted the job advertisement has a lack of technical knowledge, which probably also means…

You don’t actually know what kind of developer you want

Hacker, rock star, ninja – these don’t actually mean anything in the context of programming. Do you want a front-end web developer who can make complex JavaScript apps, or a Ruby developer with a working knowledge in system administration, or do you just want an all-rounder? If the title of your job advertisement has no context, I (and many other people) will simply ignore it.

The job requires more than one person

You really need 2 or 3 people for this job, but budgeting concerns have forced you to go for a single super-developer instead. This also leads me to believe that the job will have ill-defined requirements, and that I’m likely to be over-worked and under-paid.

For the most part, I think that if you find yourself posting an ad for a hacker, rock star, or ninja, you should take it as a sign that you need to re-think your hiring requirements. Take a little extra time to figure out what kind of developer you really want to hire, and write the advertisement accordingly.

Setting up your editor

Setting up your editor correctly can make working with other developers much less painful. Below are some things that I believe every developer should do when editing source code. Any good IDE or editor should have settings to do these things automatically – the points below are paired with their Sublime Text setting.

  • Trim trailing whitespace – "trim_trailing_white_space_on_save": true
  • Always use Unix line endings (LF) - "default_line_ending": "unix"
  • Ensure files end with a new line – "ensure_newline_at_eof_on_save": true
  • Automatically detect indentation style – "detect_indentation": true
  • Or, failing the above, have a way to quickly switch between indentation styles.

Non-tech books I should read

This post is to help me keep track of non-tech books that I would like to read.

Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sleep by Philip K Dick

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Solving “502 Bad Gateway” with nginx & php-fpm

After upgrading php-fpm, my PHP-based sites were returning “502 Bad Gateway” errors. This can happen when the php5-fpm package reconfigures itself to listen on a different socket. Here’s how you can solve it.

Check to make sure that php-fpm is running with ps aux | grep php – if you can’t see any php-fpm processes in the output, then you may need to re-install php-fpm. If php-fpm is running okay, then skip this first step.

sudo apt-get remove php5 php5-cgi php5-fpm
sudo apt-get install php5 php5-cgi php5-fpm

The thing to notice here is that the order in which you install the packages is important. In the past I have found that installing them in the wrong order causes the packages to be configured incorrectly.

Next, get php-fpm to listen on the correct host/port. In /etc/php5/fpm/pool.d/www.conf change the listen value to match the fastcgi_pass location in your Nginx configuration. For example, I changed mine from:

listen = /var/run/php5-fpm.sock

To:

listen = 127.0.0.1:9000

Restart php-fpm with sudo /etc/init.d/php5-fpm restart and everything should work normally again.

Sublime Text packages for web development

Coming from PhpStorm (a full-featured IDE), I felt that Sublime Text was missing a few useful features. Luckily, one of the great things about Sublime is that it can be easily extended with plugins and packages. Perhaps the most useful package for Sublime is Sublime Package Control, which allows you to easily install and manage packages (it can even uninstall itself – über meta).

Below are some Sublime Text packages that I have found to be useful for web development.

  • All Autocomplete extends the Sublime Text autocompletion to find matches in all open files.
  • ApacheConf.tmLanguage provides ApacheConf syntax highlighting (for .htaccess, vhosts, etc).
  • DocBlockr simplifies and automates writing DocBlock comments in many languages including PHP and Javascript.
  • Sass and LESS both provide syntax highlighting for the Sass and LESS dynamic stylesheet languages. Compass also provides a watch/build system for Sass.
  • SideBarEnhancements provides many useful enhancements to the default Sublime Text sidebar, including Copy Path and Open With…
  • SublimeCodeIntel is a full-featured code intelligence engine that provides smart autocomplete and jump-to-symbol functionality.
  • SublimeLinter automatically runs your code through a linter and highlights lines that it deems to contain (potential) errors. SublimeLinter has built-in linters for most popular languages.

September 4: Looking back on the Christchurch earthquakes

In the early hours of 4 September 2010, I was sound asleep in my house on Mount Pleasant hill in Christchurch, New Zealand. At 4:35am I was woken by a deep rumbling sound. Seconds later, the floor and walls began to shake as my house was rocked back and forth on its foundations. I scrambled out of bed and hid in a doorway until the shaking stopped. After checking that my family was okay, I went upstairs and stepped onto the balcony to look out over Christchurch. The city was silent save for a few car alarms, and it was in this relative quiet that I came to understand the significance of this event. I didn’t realise it then, but that earthquake would become a catalyst for change in my life. (more…)