The Life of a Software Engineer

22 Jun 2012

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Life of a software engineer

Every time. This happens every time.

I’ve been trying to find the source of this wonderful cartoon, but have just ended up with loads and loads of blogs where people go “me too!”

How to fail at user support (part 27)

29 Nov 2011


“In addition, we’ve found that some users have unknowingly created tags with spaces before or after the word, which then looks to them like two tags with the same name.  If you’re seeing two tags that look the same on your profile, try renaming the tags to eliminate hidden spaces.”


We don’t know how to use trim statements.  Instead of fixing our string handling to deal this issue (and we already know for a fact that it annoys our users), we’re going to get all defensive and blame our users for being idiots who can’t use a spacebar properly.

RIP Dennis Ritchie

26 Oct 2011


Hello World

printf("Goodbye world");

PHP North West 2011 Conference

10 Oct 2011


I’ve just spent a weekend at the PHP North West 2011 Conference.  I went to the London PHP day in February and a couple of people in the bar were enthusing about the North West event, so I decided to give it a go.

Why did I go to the conference?

I usually work from home, and I work on my own and this (while still being wonderful and completely amazing and best way to work ever) does mean that I miss out on the company of other developers.  Working with, and talking to, other people is a great way to learn; people tell you about things, you try new things, you get enthused and excited and you remember why you love your work.   Weblogs and mailing lists and twitter and IRC, although good things in and of themselves, are not quite the same as people.  So I try and fill a hole with local events and the occasional conference.  Sometimes it’s hard work; like a lot of people in this field I’m not the most sociable and gregarious person.

What did I like?

There was a great selection of talks, and making a choice was often difficult.  Choice isn’t always good – I sometimes end up feeling that the talk on the other side of the fence was greener and wondering what I’m missing.   But I saw some wonderful presentations, and all the presentations in the main tracks were videoed so I can check out the talks I missed when the videos go online (in about a month).

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UTF8 all over the place

22 Jul 2011


For all web applications, I have to make sure I’m using UTF8. It’s not just for customers who want the occasional page in Japanese or Korean; it’s for perfectly standard English pages which use text such as Ætna or the non-Ascii pound sign £

Now, to get this right, I have to make sure the database is setup to handle UTF8 AND the web server is setup to handle UTF8 AND the browser is setup to handle UTF8…

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12 Jan 2011


Web Developers going AWOL is a surprisingly common problem

A company will have a site built, and perhaps a backend management system setup, and then they want some amends or tweaks but they cannot contact their web developer.  I think this happens because many developers are used to working through an agency and have an agency mentality – “job done, get paid, end of story” – and they don’t think of ongoing support for existing customers.

Reasonable enough if you’re a contractor, and you do work via an agency, but not so great if you are the sole technical support for a small company.  I’ve had work (and some nice work) from panicked customers who just cannot get in touch with their regular guy.  In one case the programmer had gone on a cruise to the Carribean and not told anyone, but my favourite missing-in-action is:

“Our web developer went to the Burning Man Festival and he never came back”

Yes, you are allowed holidays and breaks, but give your customers plenty of notice and at the very least setup an email responder so people know what’s going on – don’t disappear on them just as they’re trying to ramp up for Christmas.  And if you’re going off to live in a yurt, help them find a replacement developer.

What PHP Programmers do for fun

11 Jan 2011


I’m about to head off to the PHP West Midlands get-together for January.
The group meets the second Tuesday of every month, and it alternates between social and technical meets. This month – “What’s new in Zend Framework 2.0” by Rob Allen
Dave has arranged for a new venue and we’re now meeting in the Birmingham Science Park. I’m not exactly a regular, but will be going more frequently this year – my Tuesdays are a little more open for socialising and php-ing. Most of the group activity is on the mailing list and that’s always useful source of advice / suggestions.

And at the end of next month, we have the PHPUK11 – a one day event arranged by the London PHP group. The talks are good, but as always it’s the chat over coffee with other developers which really makes it worthwhile. I usually work as a solo developer, so bumping heads with other people in the same field matters. Too much possibility of stagnating otherwise.

Emails and productivity

7 Jan 2011

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Towards the tag end of last year I was talking to someone about email and productivity, and he was describing his methodology and how he organised emails at work.  It was interesting.  We were tramping along a muddy canal bank at the time we had this conversation, so I couldn’t ask for a demonstration.

My acquaintance has a desktop folder for each project he is involved in, and wants to store the emails with the project files.  So he:

  1. prints out the email
  2. scans it with his desktop scanner
  3. saves the scanned image as a pdf
  4. puts the pdf into the appropriate project folder
  5. is happy

I didn’t try to argue or explain or know better in any way; I just said “Oh, that’s really interesting and well organised” and we carried on down the canal path.  I’ll say now that this is a man who is in his late thirties, is a qualified civil engineer, is reasonably competent, does his job well and is not noticeably maladjusted.  And I am pretty sure that I did not misunderstand him in any way.

Truly amazing what people will do with technology.

Admin Themes

25 Oct 2010

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There are a thousand sites out there which offer free (or almost free) wordpress themes; many of which look very very similar.

But earlier this year, I found which offered, not only the ubiquitous wordpress themes, but themes (or templates or skins or layouts, call-them-what-you-will) for admin pages and content management systems.

Why haven’t I come across this before?  I spend so much time building back-end control panel and sometimes I really feel that I should add a sticker which says “No Designers were harmed in the making of this product”  Will definitely be using some of these in the future.

Here’s an example showing Cleanity

Preview of Cleanity Theme

Nice Web Tools – Charles Proxy

18 Oct 2010

Charles Web Debugging Proxy lets me view all the http / ssl / https traffic between my machine and remote server. I had to pay $50 for it, but it’s already paid for itself. Nice for looking at the packets, headers , responses, XML results and JSON results. And you can also use Charles with Throttling (which sounds like a really dubious website). This lets you see what the broadband-disabled user would be experiencing – always a useful reminder.

Throttle Settings for Charles Proxy Debugger
Charles proxy with throttling

And for bonus points – the logo really tickles me. I’ve no idea why the developer choose to use a picture of a nice Victorian milk jug, but why not?

Charles Proxy Logo