Archive for the 'worth mentioning' Category

Zend Certified

Well, as of today I am officially certified by Zend as an expert in PHP 5. Around the beginning of the month I purchased the Zend examination bundle. It included both the physical and electronic versions of the study guide by php|architect, 10 practice exams, and the official certification exam, which I finally took today.

At the time, I assumed I would want plenty of time to study, since the test was rather expensive and I would’ve hated to waste my money. As it turned out, based on the results of the first practice test, I was probably ready to pass without any help from the study pack. That feeling was reaffirmed today when I finished the 90-minute timed test in about 45 minutes.

Still, I enjoyed learning a few additional features of the language that I hadn’t encountered before, such as tidy, the SPL, and some of the PHP 5 database interaction tools. I feel I’m probably a better PHP developer now for having gone through the certification study than I was before.

[Update: 4-11-08] Today I received my official certificate in the mail from Zend. Looks like it was actually signed by Zeev and Andi, though with the high quality of today’s printers, I have no way to know for sure. Still, it looks nice. And as pieces of paper for hanging on my office wall go, this one’s a lot cheaper than that one I got from college. There was also a letter with instructions for doing this:
PHP 5 ZCE logo

Cool, huh? It’ll be interesting to see whether having it actually makes my job search any easier. I hope so. Right now I’m doing the solo gig with multiple different clients who each send me a few hours’ work each week. Not bad work all things considered, but not the full-time position I’m still seeking.

March 31 2008 | worth mentioning | No Comments »

Military Signatures

I loved this latest project. It all started when I helped a fellow named Jay on experts-exchange with an issue that had been challenging him for quite some time. After he had his solution, he actually contacted me through a post on this blog asking me to give him a call. I did so, and thus began our partnership.

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Jay had gotten this idea of putting together customized signature logos for military men and women, where they could display their name, rank, badges, ribbons, and other stats about themselves inside a cool stylized image. But while he’s an impressive graphic artist and has an excellent sense of proportion and design within his signatures, he needed more help with the behind-the-scenes coding than simply posting on experts-exchange could afford him.
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Anyway, Jay agreed to match my normal hourly rate of pay, and I in turn did my best to not only give him code that did what he asked for, but code which could be easily understood by him, extended, and reused without his having to know too much about the underlying algorithms I employed.

Among the things I did for him, I:

    sigsample2.png

  • gave him a way to define blocks of space within a signature for badges and for ribbons
  • constructed a CMS for adding his images and a simple API for calling them back out
  • turned his forms into database-driven affairs that would write large portions of themselves based on the art residing in the database
  • built a system for saving a member’s selections on the signature-building form and then auto-populating the fields each time the member returned
  • developed a way of adding attachments to ribbons (these can be like a set of stars that denote a particular award has been won multiple times) that even allows users to see an instant preview of their ribbon before building the signature
  • built a queue implementation that prevents server memory overload by making sure only one signature gets built at a time (GD operations are fairly memory intense, and too many at once can cause the server to grind to a halt)
  • created a javascript that sends the form selections back to the server and initiates the image creation without forcing a page reload

sigsample3.pngI’m very pleased to see that Jay’s idea has really started to explode in popularity. And he’s the sort of dedicated individual who will take the tools I’ve given him and constantly be turning out new innovations for his site. His thousands of members love all the work he puts into it, and scores of new signups join every day. His site membership has doubled in just the past 2 weeks. And he still hasn’t spent his first dime on advertising. His traffic is increasing entirely through the viral dissemination of these signatures.

I think they look awesome, and I’m really digging the chance to be part of something that looks like it could be huge.

Check out the site – militarysignatures.com

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March 14 2008 | php projects and worth mentioning | No Comments »

MasonWolf, Zone Advisor

I’m now a “Zone Advisor” at experts-exchange.com. Altogether, there are 55 of us, each responsible for 1 or more topic areas. In my case, I’m responsible for two: PHP and blogging. The blogging is because of my experience with WordPress, though it also includes Movable Type, which I have some limited experience with as well. As for PHP, it’s just a really active zone where I have a lot of experience. There’s actually 4 zone advisors who cover PHP (including me), but blogs I’m doing pretty much on my own. Fortunately, the blogging zone isn’t too busy, so I should still be able to do a decent job.

Basically, my responsibility is to try and help anytime there’s a really tricky question, arbitrate if a cleanup volunteer is trying to close a question and it’s not clear whether it’s been answered, and generally just make sure that everyone in my topic areas is following the member agreement (no profanity, cracking tips, abusive language, copyright violation, students trying to get homework help, etc.).

In order to become a Zone Advisor, I first had to prove myself as an expert in my topic areas. Now that I am one, I have the ability to leave admin comments on any question, close any open question, edit any question or comment, and though I’d normally be expected to get one of the site admins to do it if necessary, technically I have the ability to edit or suspend any member’s account. Honestly, I’m not sure why I have that last capability, but whatever.

October 26 2007 | worth mentioning | 1 Comment »

Experts Exchange

Experts-Exchange shirt frontExperts exchange is a website where people who need an answer to a tricky technical question can go to seek out the help of self-proclaimed experts in various topics. Experts are given points for answering questions. Experts with lots of points can earn rankings, print out certificates and earn free t-shirts (the ultimate nerd motivator).

I first visited the site because I had been struggling with a particular function that had suddenly stopped working and I couldn’t figure out why. My boss got me set up with an account, and I was able to ask my question.

It was cool. At first, the suggestions I got were things I had already tried, or unhelpful comments from people who didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to do. Fortunately, there was a fellow who was able to suggest a way of rewriting the function. It worked, and I was happy.

Experts-Exchange shirt backBut while I was there, I happened to look at some of the other php questions in that “zone”. I started providing some answers. I started earning some expert points. I started having fun.

I really like working on php problems, and because the nature of my work prevents me from coming across every potential use for php, I used to find that I wasn’t being stretched as much as I like. So now, whenever work gets slow, I can always count on someone on experts-exchange posting a question that I wouldn’t otherwise have a reason to think about.

I almost always learn something new when I visit the site these days. Either I learn because I have to do some research in order to answer a question I’ve never come across before, or else I learn because someone posts an alternate way of doing something that I didn’t know about.

I’m pretty good at it too, which is nice as far as self-validation goes. I’ve now participated in 123 questions, not counting the handful I’ve asked myself. Of those, I was either credited with an accepted answer or an assisted answer on 73. Out of the remaining 50, only 15 were credited to another user. The rest are all still open or deleted by their authors. I happen to know that many of those open questions have simply been abandoned after I correctly answered them, and I’ll eventually get the points credited to me when the moderators come around and clean up the old questions.

Right now I am ranked a php “Master”, meaning I have over 50K points. The next ranking is Guru. Earning it requires hitting 150K points, and I expect to hit it sometime in October. Additionally, today marks a milestone for me with EE, as I have earned a spot among the top 15 php experts for the entire year. This is particularly thrilling seeing as I joined in July, so almost every other expert on the list has been answering questions since the year began.

Experts Exchange snapshotThe top php “rookie” – meaning someone who joined this year, is sitting at number 4 on the top experts for 2007. He joined in January, and currently has 225K points in php. I have 94K. If I can overtake him by the end of the year (and I think I can) I will receive an official award from experts-exchange recognizing me as the top php rookie.

I’m competitive, I like to collaborate with other techies, I like the challenge of trying to debug someone else’s code, I enjoy expanding my own knowledge, and I love free t-shirts. It’s only natural that I would be drawn to this site. And if showing off my expertise helps me land a job doing what I enjoy, then that just makes it all the better.

[UPDATE: I’m now at #13 for the year on the site, and within a single answer from #12. So far for the month of September I have just over 53,000 points in the php zone. Or, to put it another way, I have more points than the combined monthly totals of the 2nd-6th spots of top php experts this month.]
EE rankings in php for September (as of 9/8/07)

[UPDATE: I’m now a guru, and #9 for the entire year in php. My new shirt should be here in a few weeks. I created a little module for my blog that counts my current points score. It’s at the bottom of my left-hand sidebar.

To help me spend less time on the site and still answer questions, I developed a script which alerts me each time a new question is asked. This is important because when I’m working, I can’t keep checking the site throughout the day, but it’s not a problem to turn off my timer for a few minutes while I answer a question that I know I’m interested in solving.

I believe I have close to 40,000 points stored up in unclosed questions that I’ll receive toward the end of the month and the beginning of next as moderators come through and clean them up. The current top php rookie may not realize it yet, but he is very soon going to be replaced.]

[UPDATE (October 26, 2007): I have now been recruited as a zone advisor for the PHP and the blogging zones. This means that I’ll be the “go-to” guy if someone’s stuck with a particularly difficult problem in any of those areas, or if there’s a dispute about who answered a question best. It also means I can close any question and post a comment as an admin. Also, I get a new email address. If someone sends to my username (MasonWolf) followed by “experts-exchange.com” it’ll be forwarded to me. Anyway, it’s kinda cool. Out of thousands of experts on the site, there’s only 55 zone advisors, and I’m the newest.]

September 06 2007 | worth mentioning | 2 Comments »