For some reason, this picture just sums up
my past two weeks perfectly ;).

Last week was a crunch time at work, and a need to take care of something really important took me away from a timely update, so this is sort of a two in one post.

First, I’ve been looking at a variety of resources available online to learn about and practice using PHP. PHP can do a lot of interesting things and display output, pull in a variety of information sources, and simplify some tasks, but to do that, there needs to be a fair amount of tinkering involved.

Second, just like HTML all by itself will not give a web site a nice look and feel, PHP will not be the be all and end all of interactivity, either. Setting a site up from scratch means that there is a fair amount of interplay to work out, configuration details to tweak, and a lot of refreshing to see changes. Also, without a back end database, much of what is being done in the pages is superficial and not very interesting, though it does help to hammer out syntax.

It’s a small victory, but hey,
I’ll take it!

I’ve finished the Codecademy modules that cover PHP (YAY ME!!!) .

There’s some oddity with their interface when it comes to competing certain assignments and exercises. I have found myself not able to complete a module that I have been actively working on, even though the “code” is correct for the context. I have also closed down my browser, reopened it, gone back to the section I was just working on click save again, and gotten a “Success”.

Why do I mention this? Because I’m willing to bet others might be struggling with some examples and scratching their heads wondering why Codecademy isn’t accepting their results. Often there are typos, and those are easy to fix, but if you find yourself in a spot where you cannot get it to work, no matter what you do, try closing your browser and coming back to the module and saving again.

Noah stated in the initial comment that we should be prepared to spend a few weeks on this initial project, and to be open to the fact that we will be doing a lot of mucking around to get it to work. Just being able to manipulate pictures would be considered a positive milestone. I thought this would be relatively quick; I mean, how hard could it be to just put up a simple site with PHP? The point is not to just put up a site with PHP; there’s lots of ways to superficially do that. The image manipulation challenge is what sets it apart. Noah gives us an authentic problem, and asks up to solve it, without guidance as to how or what to use to do it.

This process led me down several paths and experiments. I set up a local stack on my personal machine. I set up a LAMP server in a virtual space. I set up a site already on the open web to use PHP and experimented with commands and syntax. I rolled several pages of my own to see how it all fits together. I downloaded a ready packaged “template” to get some ideas and save me some keystrokes. I swapped ideas between the home grown pages and the template pages. In short, I tried things, I tweaked them, I went down several dead ends, and I predict I’m going to go down several more.

One thing I learned from my time when I was releasing a podcast every week was that I had to learn just how long it would take to do something. At first, I was wildly over optimistic. I figured my skills with writing music and doing audio editing would make doing something as simple as editing a podcast a breeze. A clip here, a snip there and all would come together. If I wanted to have a slap-dash product, with little regard to the end experience of the listener, that was true. It took little time at all to edit a program that sounded hacked and choppy, but hey, it got the main points across. To make it sound good, to make the audio flow naturally, to remove pause words (the ums, ahs, likes and you knows) and to make the transition sound smooth and clean, to preserve the natural narrative so that the interviews and programs were comfortable to listen to, took a considerable amount of time to do.

I realized I couldn’t put in a four hour editing session and have a product that sounded good, but I could put in four one hour editing sessions spread over several days and make a podcast that sounded great. The difference? Spreading out the effort is vital, because discernment and clarity come with repeated practice, and some down time to let the brain reflect offline. We don’t get that same level of clarity when we try to push everything into one night to put it all together. My mistake has been more of the latter and less of the former. When we do that, we seek short cuts. We look for quick hacks that “work”, for some definition of “work”. Our standards for what is “acceptable” go way down, and we repeatedly say “oh heck with it, I have it working, it’s good enough”. Doing it a little bit at a time, and coming back to reflect on what we are doing, lets us see things that could be done better, and that we realize we really can do better, and without a lot of extra pain and effort. Last week, I tried to put it all together at one time, and was frustrated. This week, I managed a little more spacing, and got closer to a level of skill that I could feel like I’m doing something useful, but I know there’s lots more I need to do to even have something basic in place.

So yeah, the past two weeks have been hectic, scattered, and less focused and more “bunched up” in my efforts than I want them to be. It feels like how I see many programmers having to work because of issues and changing priorities, and I have a greater empathy for them and what they go through, even to meet my own arbitrary “deadlines”. If that is part of the “lessons learned” that Noah wants to encourage, I think it’s working very well.