Thursday, September 4, 2008

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...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

PR4 or The Google Gods Smile at Colnect

Some time ago, I've posted about Colnect's rank of PR0. Yesterday Colnect still had the embarrassing PR0 but as of today, Colnect got it's PageRank updated to 4!

So this is good news but some questions are left pending:
* What was the initial reason for PR0? What was my sin?
* What has now changed that Colnect deserves PageRank4?
and most importantly:
* Will PageRank4 bring extra search engine traffic? Let's wait and see.

Donations and T-Shirt

A few hours ago I've decided to allow members of Colnect donate money to the community. Very quickly 3 donations were received and I hope that collectors will keep showing their support. All the donations were big enough to get the promised T-Shirt and perhaps it provided a good enough extra motivation for donations.
I strongly believe that the community that has formed on Colnect is a very strong one. The amount of support I'm offered now, as I'm working on the next version, is overwhelming. Since the next version will include stamps, many collectors have already contacted me and offered their help.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Following the Doctrine for Colnect Philately

Colnect Philately is now under rapid development and is planned to have a limited release in September. Colnect is written completely from scratch, using bleeding edge tools which provide really cool features but come with a price. Once such tool is Doctrine.
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.
Doctrine is not yet a completely mature project and that becomes when using it for some time. However, it's going in the right direction and yesterday's announcement that "Doctrine gets its first employee" is an important step for an open source project.
So yes, using bleeding edge tools is a bet but being an entrepreneur is about believing, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Collectible phone cards catalog has passed 100,000 items

Colnect has the world's most extensive collectible phone cards catalog. Just now the milestone of 100,000 listed collectible phone cards has been passed.
A big thanks goes to all contributors who are helping in making Colnect the best resource for phone card information. Colnect is a huge community endeavor that helps in creating a catalog with user assistance. This wiki-style catalog is changing constantly and thus offers collectors the most up-to-date information.

Yesterday another smaller milestone has been passed: over 2,000 collectors are now members of Colnect.

Colnect philately is now under construction and will hopefully revolutionize the philately world as much as it has done in the fusilately world.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Pages load faster when using CSS instead of IMG tag

This is a small technical tip to speeding the loading of your web pages. There are many tips you should consider but I haven't seen this one well documented out there on the web.

When using the HTML IMG tags with Internet Explorer (tested on IE7), the page is not displayed until the images have been downloaded. Loading images using CSS background-image ensures the page is displayed even before the image is loaded.

See Colnect's countries page which contains many flag images in it using this tip.

With FireFox the page is displayed but this modification will make CSS background images load later than normal IMG images.

How to do it?

Simply replace:
<img src="image.jpg" 
width="100" height="100" />

<div style="height: 100px; width: 100px;
background: url(image.jpg) no-repeat center center;">

Monday, May 26, 2008

colnect's new clothes - slicker design

colnect's design had been too long neglected. It's not that I was unaware of the implications of a better looking website but I've delayed handling it since my skills as a graphic designer are not the ones I'm most proud of.
Since today, the site looks much better than before. Some CSS magic could do wonders on a website. There are still many enhancements to be done but they'll have to wait for the new version's launch.
An annoying issue that has to be dealt with over and over again is browser compatibility. It seems different browsers must interpret the standards differently. Personally, I suffice with testing every page on FireFox and IE. IMHO, FireFox is a much better browser and too many sites support only IE properly. The other browsers don't have such a big crowd yet and their crowd probably doesn't use them without resorting to either FireFox or IE occasionally.
Javascript can help with cool things (like these menus) but browser compatibility becomes an even harsher issue and it seems Javascript is a language that must always be tested per browser to ensure that whatever it is that you wrote actually works.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008 - the new logo

Say hello to the new logo of The magnifying glass is commonly used by collectors when they inspect the quality and finer details of their collectibles.

The website still carries the old Islands Phonecards Database logo but this will soon become history. [UPDATE: it is gone]

And this last logo was a candidate but never made it to the finals :)

Friday, May 16, 2008

My visit to WSC ISRAEL 2008

My interest in visiting the world stamp championship exhibition might have been a bit different than that of most visitors. As stamps are the next collectible to be added to colnect, I wanted to get better feeling of the hobby and meet some people with whom some future business cooperation would be achieved.

My experience was enriching as stamps, unlike phone cards, have existed for ~170 years and so have more stories and are more established as collectibles. It's a complete world to discover.

Meeting representatives of a few postal authorities went very well. I tried to interest them about the benefits colnect could bring them. Most of the people I spoke with were excited about the ideas presented and so I hope that the enthusiasm would continue to real actions.

The attached pictures show boards containing some of the world's rarest stamps presented in the exhibition.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The other PR (Public Relations)

Just appropriate that following a post about PageRank, there'll be something with a more positive note.

TheMarker, a popular Israeli newspaper concerning economics, have published an article (in Hebrew) about phone cards collectors and colnect.

The Islands Phonecards Database story now has a Russian version (originally posted in English). has also been mentioned in Telecartofilistas and Dia de Folga, Brazilian blogs in Portuguese.

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