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Words and bits from Michael Flanagan

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February 25th 2013

Thoughts on enhancing your PHPness

This t-shirt caused a bit of a moral outrage recently following a PHP conference in London. I've commented on Twitter and on a couple of blog posts and I'd also like to record my thoughts here, for the record.

For me, the question of it being appropriate or not among professionals or at a conference is a separate issue. If that were the argument being raised I suspect it would (rightfully) be a quieter one, and I’d be leaning towards the position that no, it’s not the most appropriate slogan.

But sexism – “discrimination on the basis of sex” – I’m deeply disappointed that some in the community would be so quick, brutal, and public with that accusation. Even going so far as to state unequivocally that any argument to the contrary is “part of the problem”. It’s a sad day when discussion is disallowed.

Yes we can strive for more professionalism within the community, but we are all adults here. There is absolutely a difference between a mild sexual reference pun and sexual discrimination.

It also seems there were many who quickly jumped to the conclusion (and apologised for only as an aside) that these women were some sort of hired “Booth Babes”. If that were your assumption then I think a long look in the mirror is needed before you start bandying around accusations of sexism.

I sincerely believe that apologies are in order and I wish the women – and men – at webandphp.com all the best in future. A slight misstep in humour is by no means deserving of this very public, serious and potentially damaging accusation.
January 27th 2013

OpenVPN on Amazon AWS Free Usage Tier

I finally got around to setting up my VPN server last night on Amazon Web Services. Following a couple of guides made the whole thing fairly painless – so mostly I'm just going to point towards them, with a couple of notes of my own.

VPN?


Firstly, a VPN server (those who know can skip this bit) is literally a Virtual Private Network. You might be familiar with how your home or office network operates – many computers connected to the same WiFi or ethernet network. For the most part we do this simply to share an Internet connection, however, another upshot is the ability to share files and services (e.g. documents, audio, video, printers or scanners) between these machines – with access only available to machines on your local network.

You can think of a VPN in similar terms, only the Local is replaced with Virtual Private. The physical connection between what were once, by necessity, centrally located machines is replaced with a Virtual connection – and your access to those files and services is now available from any authenticated machine with a data connection, anywhere in the world. Pretty cool.

OK, what do I need?



At it's simplest, creating a VPN requires two components – you need a server running the server component, and a client to connect to it. Actually it only really starts making sense when you have two clients (a network of one isn't much of a network!), but the setting up of the second is just the same as the first.

Client


Your first client could be the machine you're reading this on now, or any laptop or computer you want to use.

My client machine is running Linux (Mint 14). If you're on an Apple machine most of this guide should still be relevant – although perhaps the client setup will differ.

Server


For the server I decided to use Amazon Web Services, mostly because I've still got a few months left on their Free Usage Tier and you just can't beat that price.

Step 1 – Setting up on Amazon Web Services


This guide by Expedient Tech covers setting up your EC2 server. Follow this but go for Ubuntu 12.04 instead of 9.1. I don't see any reason to go back that far, maybe the guide is just old.

When they start talking about using PuTTy and installing OpenVPN that way, forget about it. That's crazy Windows talk. All you need is shell access and by now you have the pem key from amazon, so – on your client machine – you just need to fire up a terminal window and type:

ssh -i /path/to/yourkey.pem ubuntu@your-sever-address.amazonaws.com

You should now be logged-in to your new Amazon EC2 instance.

Step 2 & 3 – OpenVPN Client and Server


Now switch to Ubuntu 12.04's OpenVPN guide. Follow those steps to the letter and you should be setup on both Server and Client.

And...


And.. that should be that! You can generate a second client certificate the same way you've done the first and connect a second machine. Each client connected to the network is given a unique IP address available only to other machines on the network, allowing you to connect and share securely. Sit happily in a coffee shop while you finish up a project on the machine back home, via your humble little laptop. Or stream music from your private collection through your phone at a party.

Lots of fun.
January 9th 2013

Star Wars: Machete Order

I did the Star Wars 'Machete Order' over the recent Christmas break. The website goes into detail but in a nutshell, it involves watching Episodes 4, 5, 2, 3 and 6. In that order.

Note that this isn't about watching them back-to-back in a massive marathon sitting! Well, not unless you want to. This is just about the order you watch them in.

Turned out to be a great way to watch the films. Nothing is missed from leaving out episode one and the remaining two prequel episodes fit in at a time, just after Empire Strikes Back, when you're perfectly primed and eager to learn more about the Anakin/Vader backstory. And it all gets nicely concluded with Episode 6.

Viewing in chronological order, 1 to 6 or even 2 to 6, is far too much information far too soon. The mystery of Darth Vader is diminished by the time you get to Episode 4, the revelation in 5 is meaningless.

Viewing in release order isn't much better. With 4 to 6 followed by 1 to 3, you're left with an ending in the middle and a middle at the end (Episode 3 ends on quite a downer!). So really, 'Machete Order' makes a lot of sense.

Also nice to remember that A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back are still fantastic films. Thoroughly enjoyed watching them both again. Attack of the Clones was the worst of the bunch by a fair margin but after Empire the backstory and details do at least seem more interesting. Revenge of the Sith was much better than I remembered! And Return of the Jedi was pretty much just as I'd remembered. Good in places, silly or dull in others, and the cast seems a little less enthusiastic and a bit older all of a sudden.

And if you're going to do this -- or watch any Star Wars ever again -- do yourself a favour, Google and download the 'Despecialized Edition'. Brilliant 'blu-ray quality' restorations of the original Original Trilogy. Insanely great.
January 1st 2013

We all have the same 24 hours.

Here's how I'm planning to use mine in 2013.

2013 Day Planner

Keeping track of it all with Schedule Planner for Android. It's almost the app I was looking for, we'll see in a week or two if it helps me out.

Happy new year everyone!
September 29th 2012

Podcasts

I just set-up gPodder, which is a nice and simple desktop podcast manager.

Here's my current listening habits:

Hype Machine Radio Show (music)
KEXP Presents Music That Matters (music)
Mark Kermode and Simon Mayo's Film Reviews (film)
NPR: All Songs Considered Podcast (music)
NPR: Tiny Desk Concerts Podcast (music)
This Week In Google (tech)
this WEEK in TECH - MP3 Edition (tech)
September 28th 2012

One Pomodoro.

I've been using the Pomodoro technique a bit recently, in an attempt to improve my personal time-management.

In a nutshell, it's dividing your time into 25 minute segments (each known as a pomodoro) and, well that's pretty much it. Instead of having minutes or hours to spend on a task, you have Pomodoros.

To keep on-track it's important to set a 25-minute alarm, or egg-timer, to sound when each Pomodoro ends. In practice, just setting that timer and knowing the clock is ticking turns out to be a great motivator in itself. I also find it's an interesting brain-hack to add this abstraction layer over time. It's not two frantic hours to get a task done, it's four distinct pomodoros. I can get a lot done in four energised and enthusiastic bursts; and that still leaves 20 minutes for polish (or rest).

It doesn't suit every task or project (at least I haven't found that it does) but for a lot of things it seems likes a useful technique.

Links:
pomodorotechnique.com -- the official website. Far too much going on here, really. It's a pity it's not more simple to reflect the technique itself.

pomodoro.me -- on the otherhand, very simple. This is what I use to time each Pomodoro.

The Wikipedia entry for the Pomodoro Technique
September 20th 2012

Meanwhile, On The Internet…

Here's some stuff I've been looking at recently.

Whoa, dude, are we inside a computer right now? -- Something fun to think about in this Vice.com article. It makes enough sense to me that "computers" (to use a simplistic term) will eventually be able to mimic enough of what we consider consciousness, to the extent that the mimicry will be indecipherable from the "real thing". And perhaps no less real at all.  Rich Terrile, a well regarded "Nasa Scientist", wonders if this has already happened.

The Interiorization Of The Body. The Exteriorization Of The Mind. -- A short excerpt from an interview with Terence McKenna in which he considers, from a different angle to the Vice article, the joining of mind and technology.

PHP: The Right Way -- A nice read-through for anyone who codes with PHP. Break some bad habits and pick up some good ones.

The Ultimate Guide to Ergonomics. -- Learn to sit properly. I've been keeping this page handy for the past week or two, whenever I remember it.

Robert Anton Wilson - Maybe Logic Exercises. -- A few techniques to challenge your pre-baked perceptions.
July 29th 2012

This WordPress Theme on GitHub

I've uploaded this Wordpress theme to GitHub. For my own benefit really but feel free to grab it and use it if you want to. It's nice and clean and responsive in the basic sense. I like it, anyway.

The theme was built using the HTML5 Reset Wordpress Theme by Murtaugh. Includes Instagram, Twitter and Ex.fm widgets.
July 10th 2012

Anonymous article on Wired.com

Anonymous Logo

Great article from Wired on Anonymous: How Anonymous Picks Targets, Launches Attacks, and Takes Powerful Organizations Down.

In the beginning, Anonymous was just about self-amusement, the “lulz,” but somehow, over the course of the past few years, it grew up to become a sort of self-appointed immune system for the Internet, striking back at anyone the hive mind perceived as an enemy of freedom, online or offline. It started as a gang of nihilists but somehow evolved into a fervent group of believers.
July 10th 2012

Jape

Have been listening to this all day. Good music.

2011 album "Ocean of Frequency" on Grooveshark here:



Buy some albums on 7Digital, here: http://ie.7digital.com/search/query?search-term=jape.