Showing posts with label colnect. Show all posts
Showing posts with label colnect. Show all posts

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Symfony: Error Logging Hack

Symfony is an excellent PHP framework used on Colnect. As any piece of software, however, it has its shortcomings. The good thing is that I can hack it to fit my needs when some things are not to my likings. A recent hack I've done (and should have done a long time ago) is about the error logs. Though the guidebook to Symfony describes logging at length I couldn't figure out how to easily add some useful information to any Exception thrown on my production machine.

The following hack can be has been customized for my needs but you can change it to your preferences. It'll change the output Symfony places in the PHP error log file.

What the Hack Does?


A boring Exception such as:
[04-Mar-2009 17:20:25] Action "coins/collect" does not exist.


Will become:
[04-Mar-2009 17:20:25] CODE[0] MESSAGE[Action "coins/collect" does not exist.]
FILE[.\config_core_compile.yml.php] Line[715]
REQUEST[/it/coins/sdlk] REFERER[]
AGENT[Mozilla/5.0 (Windows; U; Windows NT 5.1; en-US; rv:1.9.0.6) Gecko/2009011913 Firefox/3.0.6] ADDR[127.0.0.1]


How To?


Find sfException class (should be /symfony/lib/exception/sfException.class.php) and add the following method:



public function getMessageFull() {
$exception = is_null($this->wrappedException) ? $this : $this->wrappedException;

try {
$sReq = isset($_SERVER['REQUEST_URI']) ? $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'] : '';
$sRef = isset($_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER']) ? $_SERVER['HTTP_REFERER'] : '';
$sUserAgent = isset($_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT']) ? $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'] : '';
$sRemoteAddr = isset($_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR']) ? $_SERVER['REMOTE_ADDR'] : '';

$sErrMessage = "CODE[".$exception->getCode().'] MESSAGE['.$exception->getMessage()."]"
."\n\tFILE[".$exception->getFile()."] Line[".$exception->getLine()."]"
."\n\tREQUEST[$sReq] REFERER[$sRef]"
."\n\tAGENT[$sUserAgent] ADDR[$sRemoteAddr]\n"
;
}
catch (Exception $e)
{
$sErrMessage = $exception->getMessage();
}

return $sErrMessage;
}


Customize this method to your needs. Make sure it doesn't raise any exceptions itself.
Now you need 2 more small changes in both sfException.php and sfError404Exception. Change the line:
error_log($this->getMessage());

to:
error_log($this->getMessageFull());


More Enhancements?


It's your call. You can email yourself an alert, include more system-specific pieces of information or use the code as is. It's obviously not the cleanest solution possible but it works for me and hope it helps you.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

3,500 collectors on Colnect

Yesterday Colnect has passed the mark of 3,500 registered collectors. This is an increase of over 17% during the last 2 months. Just before starting this year, Colnect had passed the 3,000 collectors mark. Considering the fact that ridiculously little marketing work has been done (~$50 spent on ads...), I see this as a very respectable achievement that continues the growth that started when Colnect V2 was released.

How do collectors learn about Colnect?


As Colnect allows collectors to manage their personal collection and semi-automatically manage swaps with other collectors from around the world, it's the collectors' own interest to have their collector friends join the site. Why would a collector go through the swap and wish lists of another collector manually when a match to his own lists can be done using a single click?

So what's next?


Colnect will expand to more collectible fields as requests come from existing members of the community. Some requested premium services are also planned.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Upto 80% Speed Increase on Colnect with Symfony

I have managed to cut up to 80% in loading times for Colnect's pages. This is going to be a technical post that would hopefully help others using Symfony framework on their websites. Please mind that for many sites, caching can and should be enabled. On Colnect, however, a lot of pages (especially the heavy ones) cannot be cached since they need be calculated on every request from the same user. If your site is not very dynamic, using APC (if you have a single server) or memcached (when you have many) is the best thing you can do for performance.

Partials are evil


Maybe not that evil but they take their toll on your loading time. The worst is when using them inside a loop as the price increases linearly. Use helpers whenever possible but make sure you load only the necessary helpers on each call and don't try to re-load helpers when inside a loop.

Re-use function results


Symfony encourages you to use methods and functions repeatedly, for example sfContext::getInstance()->getModuleName();. Obviously, the more calculations, the longer things take so whenever you need to re-use results, save the variable content.

A good PHP structure for re-using results is:

function foo_calculate() {
static $result = null;
if (is_null($result)) {
# perform calculations
$result = calculation results...
}
return $result;
}


Escaping PHP and going back to PHP takes its toll


Using
?>xxx
is more costly than
echo 'xxx';
See code on the next paragraph.

Using many echo calls slows things down



It's better to accumulate output in a variable and call a single echo.
The following code performs simple tests so you can get a feeling of the differences in execution times. Run it a few times (when all other applications are closed) since results alter a bit every time.


public function executeCompareOutput(sfWebRequest $request) {
$times = 100000;
echo 'Looping for '.$times.' times - results in msec';
echo '<-div style="display:none">';
$start = microtime(true);
for ($x = 0; $x++ < $times;) {
echo ' '.$x;
}
echo '<-/div><-br/>'.round(1000 * (microtime(true) - $start));

$start = microtime(true);
echo '<-div style="display:none">';
for ($x = 0; $x++ < $times;) {
?> echo $x;
}
echo '<-br/>'.round(1000 * (microtime(true) - $start));

$start = microtime(true);
echo '<-div style="display:none">';
$sBuf = '';
for ($x = 0; $x++ < $times;) {
$sBuf .= ' '.$x;
}
echo $sBuf;
echo '<-br/>'.round(1000 * (microtime(true) - $start));

$start = microtime(true);
echo '<-div style="display:none">';
$sBuf = '';
for ($x = 0; $x++ < $times;) {
$sBuf .= ' ';
$sBuf .= $x;
}
echo $sBuf;
echo '<-br/>'.round(1000 * (microtime(true) - $start));

$start = microtime(true);
echo '<-div style="display:none">';
$GLOBALS['bufbuf'] = '';
for ($x = 0; $x++ < $times;) {
$GLOBALS['bufbuf'] .= ' '.$x;
}
echo $sBuf;
echo '<-br/>'.round(1000 * (microtime(true) - $start));

die('<-br/>bye');
}


Here is a sample output:

Looping for 10000 times - results in msec
3044
5503
10
15
16
bye


On this run using multiple echo calls + PHP escaping took 55 TIMES MORE than buffering the output in a variable. This clearly proves that the style suggested by Symfony templates, using many PHP echo blocks, is HIGHLY inefficient. If you have a few dozens of it in your templates and your content is cached, this is negligible. If your content is very dynamic, as is the case with Colnect, we're talking about something very worth noting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Colnect's Alexa Ranking Keeps Going Up

Colnect's ranking on Alexa has risen again, now standing at 184,627 whereas ~3 months ago it was at ~360,000 and ~5 months ago ~500,000. I don't even know if it's linear or logarithmic although I guess the latter.

To those who may not know, Alexa ranks many (most?) websites out there of the big WWW. It does that by analyzing the traffic of (mostly unsuspecting?) users who install the Alexa toolbar on their browsers. This nice toolbar delivers the information back to their big servers, they crunch it whichever way they like and then rank the sites according to this information.

Why would anyone care about Alexa's ranking? Well, it has come to be relatively important in the WWW world. It allows you to have some (allegedly non-biased) objective information about how your website fairs on the Internet.

Are the results reliable? The short answer IMHO: no. The longer answer: perhaps, to some length. Since some website owners/operators/SEO personnel think of it as important, they are making an effort to get their ranking up. This isn't that hard, considering the fact the grand majority of users don't have the Alexa toolbar. There are many methods but they're basically about making people who use your site have the Alexa toolbar thus your site will have an improved ranking.

Another important disadvantage of Alexa is that ranking is on a per-domain basis. As such, this blog (which a few read) ranks the same as Colnect (which many frequently use). Personal websites on some free hosting all rank the same so you cannot tell them apart and so on.

Does Colnect try to improve its ranking? No. I did think about it for some time, since after all it may look better to some people, but have decided not to. The main two reasons would be not to spend my time on metrics that don't really matter and the second that since I wouldn't install it on my machine, I wouldn't ask others to do so.

Okay, let's hope this post won't cause Colnect's Alexa ranking to crash :)

Friday, January 30, 2009

Phonecard Puzzles

When a few items can be combined to a bigger one, it's a puzzle. A new and unique feature of Colnect shows the combined puzzle items together so that collectors may see the whole puzzle, even if they've not yet obtained the physical items. Puzzles are more common for phone cards but may sometimes be found with stamps as well.

Click here for an example Disney puzzle

or better
All phone card puzzles on Colnect

Monday, January 26, 2009

Usability

A good system doesn't only have to offer users worthwhile services but should be as easy and intuitive to use as possible. When people access so many websites, they expect everything to be natural for them. Rarely do people actually read long HELP sections. Frequently they simply play around with the application and what they can't see quickly would many times never be used.

Though these are old news, the user interface on Colnect V2 has initially not been properly designed and implemented. I admit this was a big mistake since it made the usage of existing users much more awkward and wasn't inviting enough for new users. Though Colnect did grow very nicely since V2 has been released, it's likely despite the user's interface rather than because of it.

So the good news is that in the recent days and upcoming days the user's interface will be added with many useful options to make the usage of Colnect as easy and intuitive as possible.

Here are two examples for recent additions:

CSS-only popup menus




Sorting collectors lists by clicking the column header


Friday, January 9, 2009

Colnect's Minor Contribution to World Peace

As Colnect embraces collectors from all parts of the earth and of different languages, it adds a small contribution to world peace. I strongly believe in promoting peace on the individual level. We are all people and though we may differ in our views and culture, we share so much in common. Getting closer to people of different backgrounds allows us to be more open minded and accepting of the differences. When collectors connect, they also make friends in distant places and learn about other countries and cultures.

Colnect's platform allows translation to any language so that people of different cultures can join us and enjoy sharing their hobby with others. Currently 25 languages are translated properly and 5 more are pending translation. All translations are done by volunteers and so any new language is welcomed.

Colnect does not promote political discussions since there are other, more suitable, sites for that. The lack of politics on Colnect allows all to join in and make friends without prejudices.

Though personally I come from a turbulent region, Colnect isn't and wouldn't be identified with any specific country or political stream. The English language is used as Colnect's base language only because it's the most popular language on the web world for now.

Happy collecting and peace to us all :)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Very happy holidays :) Over 3,000 collectors on Colnect

As 2009 is looming, Colnect has happily announced that its community now has over 3,000 members. Colnect's community growth rate has been on the increase, especially since the new Colnect V2 site has been launched during the midst of October. Since now Colnect caters to stamps and coins collectors, it has found a new crowd of people interesting in managing their personal collection easily and connect with other collectors from around the world.

Colnect's development relies on the assistance of its ~70 contributors who volunteer to translate Colnect, update its database with new collectibles and help with various tasks.

Though this blog has recently been quiet, a lot has happened on Colnect recently. The lack of a PR department in Colnect takes its toll and certainly Colnect would have bloomed much sooner with such. New features and fixes are added daily to the site and the contributors help update the catalogs on a regular basis. Colnect's collectors forums provide more detailed information about recent updates to the site.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

iGoogle Collectibles Gadgets

Colnect has just released 3 iGoogle gadgets that you can see right here on the side of this blog. Read all about these cool collectibles gadgets.

Here's the description:
A cool gadget for collectors! See a new random collectible item. Click the picture to see complete information about the item: which memebers of Colnect Collectors Community have it on their collection, swap or wish list. You can easily manage your personal collection on Colnect and find swap buddies from all around the world. The huge catalogs on Colnect are created by collectors for collectors. Join Colnect now. It's fun, it's quick and it's free! Happy Collecting :)

Some personal thought about the current crisis

The economy fluctuates. It's actually a part of the bigger truth saying "the only constant thing is change". As with every change coming, you can either fight it or embrace it. Since fighting many times does no good, IMO one should embrace change and see how to get accustomed to new situations as they arise.

Colnect is embracing the change in the economy. So far it has maintained a positive cash flow and will continue to do so in the future. Now is probably not the time for big spendings or risk takings. Now is the time to spend less but do more with the resources available.

An interesting campaign I've came across made me even more aware of how some companies (as well as some people) do not try to prepare for a gloomier future although the writings are clearly on the wall. The campaign was for mobuzz.tv, which I haven't known before. Apparently, they're burning 50 grands a month in producing 5 daily shows a day and now they're vying for donations because they've ran out of money. They expect to raise Euro 120K in one week with donations of 5 Euro. Yes, they really expect 24,000 people to donate them 5 Euro each in a week. They just need it for 3 months and then they'll get the funding they need.

Pardon me cynicism, but I'm not even sure that FaceBook, with its huge worldwide users community, would have been able to raise 24,000 donations in a week. There are probably much sadder things happening in the world today to which one would donate. Skinning living dogs & cats is one of them.

The truth is that although I have no idea about mobuzz's business, it seems (at least on the surface of it) that someone there has not done a brilliant job planning the business side of the company. How do you get to run out of money in a week? Can't you tell when you have only 6 more months to live and then do your best to raise capital alongside with cutting expenses sharp? How can you be sure to get funding in 3 month? In a happy market you can't be sure about it, so now?

The technical side might have flows as well since there was no link to their shows to see what it is we're supposed to help with. Also, the video took very long to load.

My guess is that mobuzz isn't the only company that's about to close its doors soon due to problematic financial planning. As times get rough, survival of the fittest prevails once more. Heed the warnings out there and be ready for the future. Every storm eventually ends. Good luck to everyone.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Google Developers Day 2008 in Israel

Google's Developers Day 2008 tour has landed in Israel today. Google is looking for developer love and is doing their best to attract it. The main message coming from Google is "Let's work together to make the Internet a better place. The better it is, the better we're all off". Not forgetting that we're talking about a commercial company, not a charity foundation, their approach is, at least on the surface, quite amiable.

Perhaps the most interesting parts of the day, in regard to Colnect, were related to OpenSocial. From their website: "OpenSocial defines a common API for social applications across multiple websites. Built from standard JavaScript and HTML, developers can create apps with OpenSocial that access a social network's friends and update feeds. By using a common API, developers can extend the reach of their applications more quickly, yielding more functionality for users."

What does it really mean? As I see it, FaceBook has taken too big a share of the social networks world than Google (and others) think they deserve. One of the main reasons for the success of FaceBook is the FaceBook applications written by developers and extending FaceBook's functionality in many different directions. The problem is that developers are mostly unable to devote many efforts to writing their social applications to all social networks out there and would thus focus on the biggest ones. Orkut (Google's social network) is surely not the biggest and so the way to convince developers that they should write Orkut-complaint applications, we now have OpenSocial.

OpenSocial supports other networks as well which altogether (according to their figures) serve nearly 500 million users worldwide. Though I'm skeptical of how someone knows my Linked In and Orkut accounts are of the same person (they probably don't share email addresses around), it's still quite a big figure which should be a motivation enough for a developer to focus on it instead (or in addition to) FaceBook.

Colnect is about to release some social applications to the social networks world to assist collectors integrate their collectibles hobby with their other activities and help spread the word about Colnect to fellow collectors. OpenSearch seems an appealing choice since it involves many networks which cater to different crowds which altogether might coincide better with Colnect's target crowd than FaceBook.

Last but not least, there's the issue of Chrome, Google's new browser. While promoting it as simply a means to make your surfing better, it would still have been a bit more amiable and transparent to say "we've made our own browser so that we can make Google search the default search engine and not allow you to block AdWords ads with some addon". If Google really would have cared just for the web users community, it would have simply put more efforts into the existing open source browsers. In my experience, Chrome is still much inferior to FireFox.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

50% increase in Colnect's growth rate - welcoming stamps and coins collectors

Less than 2 weeks following the initial release of Colnect V2 and without any commercial advertising of Colnect, there are already ~90 active coins collectors from 35 countries and ~50 active stamps collectors from 25 countries on Colnect. Active refers to a collector who has updated his/her personal collection on Colnect.

The overall amount of newly registered members during the last week shows ~50% increase over the weeks before it. This achievement, enhanced by the facts that the new site experienced some downtime and that registration now requires email address confirmation, should probably be attributed to the collectors who already know Colnect. Some collectors collect more than a single collectible and so many phonecard+coin collectors would know other coin collectors and let them know about how useful Colnect would be for them.

To help motivating collectors the following news item has recently been published on Colnect:

Help Colnect and Win Free Phonecards!

Colnect now has a huge stamps and coins catalog. However, since it's so new, many collectors of stamps and coins have not yet heard about us. Now is your chance to help Colnect and win free phonecards.
How?

Simply tell your collector friends to join Colnect. Once they join and update their collection, they should Contact Us and tell us you told them about Colnect. Every friend that joined Colnect with your help entitles you to 10 points. Each friend your friend bring, gives you 3 more points.
Who will win?

The 3 collectors who has accumulated most points until the 30th of November.
What will you win?

First place: 50 Phonecards
Second place: 40 Phonecards
Third place: 30 Phonecards
BONUS: A Colnect T-Shirt.
Questions?

Visit the forum for answers.


What about commercial advertising


Though so far Colnect did not rely on any commercial advertising but rather 'word of mouth' and friendly reviews and backlinks, it may be a good idea to advertise it some more with AdSense or a similar program. For the time being, I prefer to see a steady growth while I'm fine tuning the system and perfecting it rather than a flood which will make Colnect buzzing and later endangered.

150 OpenSearch plugins for Colnect

"OpenSearch is a collection of simple formats for the sharing of search results" the official website says. OpenSearch makes interfacing a website in which you use a lot of search much easier since you don't have to navigate through the site's pages to see the results. You skip waiting for a new page and save yourself some time.

Colnect supports OpenSearch for the benefit of the collectors on the site who often search the huge catalogs for the items they're interested in.

In Firefox:

and IE7:


Yesterday I've tried to publish the plugins on Mycroft Project so collectors could easily install from there as well. It's probably the web's most notable directory for OpenSearch plugins. The problem is that Mycroft has no auto-submission feature to be found and so I couldn't add all the plugins.

"How many plugins have you made?" you might ask and the answer is quite simple. There's one plugin to search for a collectible item by name and another to search for a collector by username. Later I may add searching by catalog code. So what's the problem submitting 2 plugins manually? Well... that 2 turned into 150 since currently there are 3 collectible types on Colnect (coins, stamps and phonecards) and the site is supported in 25 languages. 2 times 3 times 25 gets to 150 and that's not so much fun to do manually anymore... I hope they'll come up with a solution. The best would be to use simply submit the site's URLs and let MyCroft use the auto-discovery link tags like the browsers use to allow you to add the plugin.

Happy OpenSearching...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Performance: MySQL, APC, memcached.

A highly important issue of any notable website is performance. You may have created the best website in the world but if it dies under load, you're gonna lose customers. User experience is very important today and having a slow website doesn't help at all.

Optimization is, however, not a trivial issue and requires expertise in different fields. There are so many different places where you can optimize that it's not always that easy to know what to focus on. Though this post will adhere to its title I'll still list here where optimization can occur in a website.

* Correct usage of HTTP headers to make client browsers request less information.
* Smaller responses (gZIP / more CSS - less HTML / use of Ajax to return instead of reloading complete pages).
* Optimization of your server machine(s) hardware AKA "I need more CPU, I need more memory and 'how much is another 1U?".
* Server software optimizations: Webserver (such as Apache) / Scripting engine (such as PHP) / DBMS (such as MySQL) / cache engines (such as memcached, APC) could and should be tweaked heavily. Failing to define an appropriate index in your DBMS or making some wrong choices on where and when the webserver saves user sessions, for example, could carry a heavy toll.
* Network optimizations: anyone said CDNs?

The fun part is that all these parts are well entangled.

I've read an interesting post about prefering MySQL cache over the popular memcached in some situations. Though it was pretty much one-sided (ignoring the overhead of a database connection), it rose some interesting points and is well worth reading.

An advantage towards the DBMS that I consider relevant is greater flexibility. For example: you allow outdated information to persist (such as statistics). Say you want it updated about every 5 minutes. If you cache it for 5 minutes it'll expire and then you may face a situation in which a few threads query the database again to get this information. If you use a Memory table for this information you can read it and, if expired, set some writing lock that'll cause other thread to keep reading the expired information until it's well updated.

Another interesting older post about performance showed some interesting benchmarks. The biggest problem of relying on others' benchmarks is there can always be one single parameter different on your system that would mean the results for you would be totally different. For example:
* A new version of a product has just changed everything about it.
* A configuration option made a product completely flunk its benchmark tests.
* Your queries may not be similar at all to what is tested (though you may think it is).

So these were my 2c about performance for now. The bottom line is simple: there's always a part of your system that's not properly optimized. The best is to check the painful spots and remedy them while maintaining an overall look of what your system has to provide.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Colnect V2 alpha site is up for the Prague Fair

During 12-14/9/2008 a big international collectors fair is being held in Prague. To allow collectors to preview the new version of Colnect, which includes a vast database of stamps, the alpha site has been opened and is available here.

At the moment it is NOT yet considered stable and is meant only for the taste of how Colnect would be. Hopefully, it'll be ready by the end of the month and the current Colnect will be replaced by the new improved one.

There are many new things in Colnect V2 but perhaps the most important ones for current Colnect members are the addition of versatile filters to the system which allow collectors to easily find the items they're looking for and match them with collections of other collectors.

Updates to follow...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

The "Language Icon" initiative

Colnect is currently available is 25 languages and so there should be an easy way to let users choose their preferred language. To facilitate this, there's currently a big part of the welcome screen that shows the names of the different languages. The reason is that it's highly important that a user would see their language available when first visiting the site since for many people using their native tongue greatly improves usability.

Having a big box with all language names is something I can get away with on the main page but not on every page of Colnect. The problem is not when registered members (who will have their preferred language loaded as they log in) but with new visitors. For this reason there's currently a selection box on the top and side menu which allows to change a language quickly for every page.

A small issue remains: what do you write in this selection box? Currently, the English word 'Language' appears there. The word itself could have been translated to every language but seeing this word in a language you probably don't understand (if you understand it, why would you change your language?) won't be very helpful. This is not ideal but I have to assume every Internet users knows at lit a tiny bit of English (sorry all, but English is the web's most international language).

I've considered the option of using flags but have ruled it out because:
1 - Flags represent countries, not languages. Consider English which is widely spoken in the US, UK and Canada. On the other hand, consider Canada which has both English and French as official languages.
2 - Adding 25 flag icons for every page is an extra communication load with no good justification.

A solution?

An interesting project I've came across is the 'Language Icon'. They've decided to create an international icon to mean the word "language". Here it is: Classic Icon 32 x 32
It's supposed to look like a tongue though personally I don't find it resembling a tongue. If it'll catch on, however, it could be of great use to websites / application around the world. Kudos for the idea!

I've already added this icon to Colnect V2, about to be released to the public soon, where you can find it on the side menu on internal pages.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

How traffic changed from PR0 to PR4

More than a month ago, Colnect's PageRank has changed to PR4. Now's the time for some statistics taken directly from Google Analytics deployed on Colnect.

Comparing the last 2 weeks with the 2 weeks before the change show 25% more traffic from Google. But what's more interesting is that there's 68% more traffic from Live and 58% more from Yahoo. So the PageRank probably did make a difference but is Yahoo and Live taking their information from Google? Perhaps it was vice versa and I just never stumbled upon tools to test my ranking with these search engines due to the lesser amount of traffic they bring.

Doctrine v1.0 is finally out

Colnect V2 (including stamps and more collectibles) is now almost ready to be shown in alpha and that's why it's such good news that Doctrine v1.0 has been released.

Doctrine is a PHP ORM that is nicely integrated with Symfony. It allows defining your database schema easily with YAML files. The database and PHP classes can then be automatically generated to provide you will all the needed functionality of database interaction.

Although IMO some edges have not yet been met in Doctrine (most importantly the i18n support), I hope it'll be able to work properly on the new Colnect. Developing with an ORM is surely much easier to maintain than using raw SQL. I expect Doctrine to keep growing stronger and more stable in the near future as the ideas behind it are very useful and needed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Adjusting CSS to RTL languages

Writing the new version of Colnect from scratch, I've decided to start using more CSS and less HTML table tags where possible. Truth is I'm still not sure that this decision will hold as CSS still seems immature to me. Yes, it's been around for years and it has many proponents but the truth is that sometimes you really have to work hard to do something which could have been easily explained to any design language. One such issue is RTL (right-to-left) languages, such as Hebrew and Arabic.

HTML supports the dir tag to allow one to easily change from left-oriented design to right-oriented one. In CSS, however, it seems the matter has not been taken into serious consideration. When you have a CSS float, for example, you can choose if it floats left or right but there's no way for you to say something simple like left and left-fixed. IMHO, left should have changed to right on RTL languages while left-fixed would have always kept left. The same goes to specifying the 4 dimensions like in 'padding: 1px 2px 3px 4px;'. They should be switched unless the directive fixed is added.

But since CSS doesn't do that well, a developer from Google has created a python script called CSSJanus which tries to address many issues relevant for converting a CSS from a left-oriented one to a right-oriented one. It's code is available here.

Since Colnect is built using PHP, I've decided to only use a few ideas from the CSSJanus code and integrate them into the JS/CSS combinator already in use. The idea is quite simple, the application asks for a different CSS file when it's right-to-left (RTL) oriented by prefixing some directive to the CSS requested which lets the combinator understand it should add the conversion.

You can start with the combinator script code here.

These two lines at the top of the script will add RTL directive:
$bRTL = (substr($_GET['files'], 0, 4) == 'rtl_');
if ($bRTL) $_GET['files'] = substr($_GET['files'], 4);


Now the cache hash should be different so there's a slight modification here:
$hash = $lastmodified . '-' . md5($_GET['files'].($bRTL ? 'RTL' : ''));


And the last thing to do is to create the left-to-right conversion function and place it just after stripping the CSS comments. Add this:
if ($bRTL) $contents = CssSwitchLeftToRight($contents);


And here's my simple conversion function (that does NOT cover many cases covered by CSSJanus):
/**
* Switch left to right and vice versa for a few of the cases relevant for css
*
* @param string $str
* return string
*/
function CssSwitchLeftToRight($str) {
$arConversionSeq = array(
'/-left/' => 'TOK1',
'/-right/' => '-left',
'/TOK1/' => '-right',
'/float\s*:\s*left/i' => 'TOK2',
'/float\s*:\s*right/i' => 'float:left',
'/TOK2/' => 'float:right',
);
foreach ($arConversionSeq as $pattern => $replacement) {
$str = /*"doing{} $pattern => $replacement ".*/preg_replace($pattern, $replacement, $str);
}
return $str;
}


I have not posted the entire script here since it has site-specific modifications on my site. You're welcomed to comment here if further clarifications are needed.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

How many collectible phone cards are there?

I'm sorry but this blog post is not going to answer that question.

When I took over Colnect (previously known as Islands Phonecards Database) we've had ~30,000 collectible phone cards in our database. Less than a month ago I've written that "Collectible phone cards catalog has passed 100,000 items" but as of today I'm happy to announce that Colnect's catalog has just passed the 110,000 mark.

It seems that not only is the database growing, but that its growth rate is on the rise. So when will it stop? Obviously it'll start slowing down when most of the collectible phone cards in the world will already be listed on Colnect. Just how many are there? As I know we're still missing some tens of thousands of Brazilian and Chinese cards, my assumption ranges somewhere between 200,000 and 1,000,000 different collectible phone cards. The variation is great due to the unexpected nature of variants. A card may be listed once but then an expert collectors note that there were small variations between the different prints and one card becomes 20 different variants, all with different collectible value.

So when will this race stop? Let's wait and see...

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