If you blog it they will come?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What's wrong with PHP?

Just as it's easy to completely write off a band you don't care for (because they sold out? or their singer meets with world leaders and has a terrible op-ed album in the New York Times), the same often happens with technologies and languages.

For example, there was some point in my life where I told myself I would avoid any project heavily involving PHP.

But why? What's wrong with PHP? Yahoo and Facebook use it...and I haven't used it enough to warrant such strong feelings.

I wanted to explore this (baseless?) apprehension further, and I thought of this characteristically absurd/profound quote from Perl creator Larry Wall:

"Perl is worse than Python because people wanted it [to be] worse."

Larry Wall

The goodness of Perl v. Python is a common religious argument. The above quote squelches the debate once and for all, but begs further questions.

Who is they? Why did they want Perl to be worse? Do the words I added ([to be]) change what Larry actually meant?

Consider this Mind Hacks post about trends and their origins; the concepts extend to any sort of idea that can grow legs. Trends in technology are the same way, and spread because a distant idea reached some critical mass of connectivity and settled in with your own circle of peers.

Developers can vote for or against any technology by speaking for or against it, but their most powerful influence is in choosing which technologies to devote their energies toward learning and improving. Enthusiasm for a project leads to expertise contribution, and contribution leads to enthusiasm.

Conversely, people who have a distaste for a technology will discourage others. They (the technologies) will languish if their community does not grow.

In other words, labeling a technology good or bad is a self-fulfilling prophecy given enough influence and/or critical mass. Soon companies using the "good" technology will flourish with resumes and job postings for "bad" technologies will receive lesser attention, serving only to reinforce existing stereotypes.

I'm largely paraphrasing Paul Graham. He wrote a great essay on this phenomenon, which he calls "The Python Paradox".

I believe this is what Larry was getting at. And it explains my own PHP aversion, as my experiences were underwhelming at worst, but the number of developers I've heard lament PHP convinced me to stay away, as if it's the bad part of town.

Arguing over which language is better or worse is a waste of time; what matters is the consensus of the larger community (see wikiality). Even if it's unjustified. But just like a neighborhood can turn around, opinions change, and that's why phrases like "JavaScript Renaissance" are thrown around. And although I can't shake all the PHP prejudice, I wouldn't make a point of avoiding it (PHP that is), either.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Easy hexagonal tiles with css

I just started building an online game with appengine as a learning exercise, and I'm attempting to do so without flash, java, or any other plugin.

There's nothing to play yet, but I already have something that is generically useful: a hexagonal tile layout purely in html and css. It's pretty clean too, check it out:

The Django Template:

{% load mod %}



<link type="text/css" rel="stylesheet" href="/stylesheets/board.css">



<div id="board-container">

{% for i in rows %}

<div class="row {% if i|mod:2 %}offset{% endif %}">

{% for j in rows %}

<span class="hex">

<img src="/img/hexagon.png" />


{% endfor %}


{% endfor %}




The mod filter came from here.

All this does is create a grid of hex images (100x100 transparent pngs, edited from this source image). Every other row is "offset" so that the hex pieces nest together.

Here's the css:

#board-container {
border: solid black 5px;
width: 875px;
height: 700px;

.row {
/* This has to be .hex width * # of cols */
width: 800px;

.hex {
/* The width and height depend on the size of the hex image. */
width: 80px;
height: 65px;
border: none;
float: left;
.offset {
position: relative;
/* half of the hex width. */
left: 40px;

And the final result for a 10x10 grid:

The next step is to implement the game rules, ajax calls, and draw a sidebar with the playable pieces.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

TechFlash's credulous hackery

TechFlash is dedicated to covering the Seattle tech scene, just as TechCrunch is focused on the Silicon Valley tech scene.

Unfortunately TechFlash is TechCrunch's insecure younger step-sibling and apparently needs to issue one-sided press releases poorly disguised as blog post reportage in order to maintain its insider access.

Case in point:
Microsoft escalates war on piracy

War on piracy? Really? Is that like the war on terror? Or the war on drugs? Or the war on poverty?

Anyway, the article quotes Microsoft only, and offers no analysis or commentary on why piracy is rampant or whether this strategy is the an intelligent one. It offers no commentary beyond Microsoft's slant on the story.

The Microsoft source claims that everyday consumers are opposed to piracy "because they're increasingly frustrated and angry about the connection to viruses and malware."

Actually maybe the problem is that users can have something for free instead of paying for it, and it dents the bottom line of Microsoft's current business approach (which may or may not still be relevant). But you won't see such a nuanced view in this article, or any other quid-pro-quo TechFlash articles to be frank.

I criticize because I care--I want the Seattle tech scene to flourish, I want TechFlash to be informative and critical instead of parroting the mouthpieces of the region's big players. And I speak for myself only, of course.

In summary, I just posted a critical blog post, about a blog. What has my life come to?