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What’s Your Writing Style?

The Felician Sisters at Sacred Heart Elementary taught me this: a paragraph must have a minimum of three sentences. I’ve broken the rule many times but the sentiment always stuck with me. My writing is dense. It’s pontificating. Its a wall of text. It’s what dinosaurs like me call content (you know, that stuff that’s “king on the internet”). But nowadays, our attention span is getting shorter. 140 characters is too long, and content should be “snackable”... whatever that means. Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
- Blaise Pascal Writing better takes effort. Shorter is better. Luckily, I have this space to practice.
Recent posts

Safely Identify Dependencies for Chrooting

The most difficult part of setting up a chroot environment is identifying dependencies for the programs you want to copy to the jail. For example, to make cp available, not only do you need to copy its binary from /bin and any shared libraries it depends on, but the dependencies can have their own dependencies too that need to be copied. The internet suggests using ldd to list a binary’s dependencies, but that has its own problems. The man page for ldd warns not to use the script for untrusted programs because it works by setting a special environment variable and then executes the program. What’s a security-conscious systems administrator to do? The ldd man page recommends objdump as a safe alternative. objdump outputs information about an object file, including what shared libraries it links against. It doesn’t identify the dependencies’ dependencies, but it’s still a good start because it doesn’t try to execute the target file. We can overcome the dependencies of dependencies pr…

A Unicode fgetc() in PHP

In preparation for a presentation I’m giving at this month’s Syracuse PHP Users Group meeting, I found the need to read in Unicode characters in PHP one at a time. Unicode is still second-class in PHP; PHP6 failed and we have to fallback to extensions like the mbstring extension and/or libraries like Portable UTF-8. And even with those, I didn’t see a unicode-capable fgetc() so I wrote my own. Years ago, I wrote a post describing how to read Unicode characters in C, so the logic was already familiar. As a refresher, UTF-8 is a multi-byte encoding scheme capable of representing over 2 million characters using 4 bytes or less. The first 128 characters are encoded the same as 7-bit ASCII with 0 as the most-significant bit. The other characters are encoded using multiple bytes, each byte with 1 as the most-significant bit. The bit pattern in the first byte of a multi-byte sequence tells us how many bytes are needed to represent the character. Here’s what the function looks like: functi…

Some Go Irks and Quirks

Now that Jump Start MySQL is published, I’m taking advantage of the spare time I have on my hands while it lasts. I’ve helped organize the Syracuse PHP Users Group, reconnected with some old friends, and gave some love to Kiwi, my forever-project programming language. Moreover, I decided to rewrite Kiwi using Go as it’s one of those languages I found interesting but never had a reason to use in any serious fashion. And now that I’ve got some real experience with it, while I still find myself impressed by some of Go’s features, some things have become really annoying. I still really like Go’s data typing; it’s static, but it feels dynamic because the compiler is smart enough to deduce a value’s type. If you write your code well then you’ll rarely see a type name outside of a function signature or struct or interface definition. It’s nice to have type safety without the verbosity (yes I’m looking at you, PHP7). I wish := behaved slightly different, though. Instead of always an allocat…

PHP Frameworks Don't Save Time

Experience has shown me frameworks can be useful for maintaining structure in large code base developed by multiple teams. Every developer has different abilities and a framework enforces structure and consistency throughout the code. But I've not experienced saving any substantial amount of time on a PHP project because of a framework.The other day someone posted in the PHP subreddit asking for advice. He was about to begin work on a small project and wanted to know whether he should use a framework, and if so then which framework would be appropriate. I should have known better than to offer my two cents but I did anyway.Slim + NotORM + Twig is nice. If it's a simple project, you probably don't need much more than that. I'm not a fan of frameworks in the slightest but I do enjoy the aforementioned combination. They're lightweight and stay out of my way, allowing me to write my functionality.Another redditor picked up on my distaste for frameworks and asked:So you…

New Writers Guide now on GitHub

Writing can be a fun and rewarding way to share your knowledge, experience, and opinions with others. Unfortunately, it can also be intimidating or frustrating for some people. When I was managing editor for SitePoint's PHPMaster property, I prepared a guide to help alleviate some of the frustration and self-doubt that new writers (and even experienced writers) might experience.The guide wasn't something commissioned by SitePoint; I wrote it on my own for my authors. And though it's been about eight months since PHPMaster was absorbed into the main SitePoint site and I stepped down as managing editor, people continue to ask me about it. So, I've decided to make the guide publicly available.The New Writers Guide offers advice for finding inspiration, structuring an article's content, growing one's self-confidence, and overcoming other challenges that programming writers may face. Hopefully it'll continue to help people write awesome articles and realize the …

Ajax File Uploads with JavaScript's File API

Developers have been using Ajax techniques for years to create dynamic web forms, but handling file uploads using Ajax was always problematic. The crux of the problem was security – it's not a good idea to allow arbitrary code access to any file it wants on a user's system so JavaScript was intentionally restricted in how it could interact with things like file input elements. Uploading a file with JavaScript was essentially a standard form submission that targeted a hidden iframe. It felt dirty but it got the job done.The W3C began work on standardizing a File API for JavaScript sometime between 2006 and 2009 and we're now at the point with browser support where developers can take advantage of it. Developers supporting web apps on IE8 and 9 still need to use iframes, but those of us targeting newer browsers can finally take a pure JavaScript approach to file uploads. And as more users migrate from IE8/9, the iframe approach will eventually be left in the du…