Say Hi to Shoppimon – Magento Monitoring for “Normal” People

For a while now I have been telling people I am “working on a small project” – and now is the time to unveil the mystery and introduce Shoppimon – a new start-up which I founded together with a small group of friends, and am currently spending most of my time around.

The idea of Shoppimon is simple – we want to provide Web monitoring and availability analysis which will be useable by, and useful to “normal” people – not only the tech guy, the programmer or the IT specialist, but the site owner, the business owner or even the marketing guy – in other words the real stake holder.

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Why I don’t like the term “NoSQL”

This is a rant post, but just to clarify things, it’s not a rant against the use of non-relational databases. I think that the shift in recent years from a world in which relational databases are used almost exclusively regardless of what the need is, to today’s situation where it is possible and even considered a good idea to choose the best fitting solution from any number of data storage paradigms, is a truly blessed change. I am a big fan of some non-relational database solutions, and to be honest as a programmer I enjoy using some of them more than I enjoy MySQL or any other relational database.

This is a rant against the too-common term “NoSQL”. In my opinion, “NoSQL” is an example of layman terminology which does not properly describe the concepts which in most cases it aims to describe, and should not be used by professionals which are technical enough to understand the true meaning of these concepts.

“NoSQL” databases are all about the data model – in most cases, the term is used to describe any kind of storage engine (or database) in which data is stored in non-relational manner: object storage, document storage, key-value storage etc. Indeed, the term is more about what the database is not that about what it is.

Relational data is data that can be described as a table – in contrast to what some think, the term “relational database” has nothing to do with the ability to define and enforce relationships between data in different tables. If this was the case, MySQL using the MyISAM storage engine would not be a relational database. The term “relation” is a mathematical term, which existed before the creation of relational databases and is used to describe a relationship between two finite data sets, which can be described in a tabular manner (and I am not a mathematician, not even close – so I apologize in advance for this likely inaccurate description).

But, SQL has nothing to do with this – SQL is the language used to send commands to the database, and nothing more. It is true that there is an almost 1-to-1 correlation between database engines that store data in a relational manner and database engines that use SQL as a query language, but saying that relational databases are SQL databases is like saying that  (and assume it’s 1984 again) the Russian language should be abolished when in fact we want to say that communism is an unfitting economic system. It’s a poor way to describe your intentions, and it makes you sound like an ignorant moron.

There are many client libraries and wrappers that allow you to query a relational database such as MySQL and Oracle without writing any SQL code yourself. This doesn’t make them NoSQL databases. Some popular non-relational databases, such as Amazon SimpleDB and the Google App Engine Data Store provide query languages that are quite similar to SQL. This doesn’t make them SQL databases.SQL is just a language, and it is a good one for what it’s supposed to do (putting aside all sorts of discrepancies between vendor-specific SQL implementations). SQL is not what NoSQL databases are NOT about.

So, next time when you want to use a term that describes all databases that do not store data in a tabular manner, use the term “non-relational” or if you really like acronyms, “NonRDBMS”, and not “NoSQL”. Or even better – use a term that describes what your preferred solution is, not what it is not. After all, when you say “non-relational storage engine”, you are probably not referring to your file system, right?

Goodbye, Zend

Ok, the title kind of says it all – this has been known to some for a few months now, but for the sake of clarifying things up, I’m leaving Zend – or to be technically accurate, has already left.

This was not an easy decision for me, as Zend has been for more than 6 years not only my employer but also my school, my workshop and a little bit of home as well. This sounds like bullshit – but since I started there as a first-level support engineer and am leaving as a co-Product Manager for the company’s flagship product, I think it’s fair to say I gained as much as I contributed.

However, it’s time to move on for me. I’m looking into doing my own things at my own time, and being my own boss. I want more free time to experiment, play and pursue my hobbies and silly ideas.

In recent years the company took some directions I was not 100% happy with, and being responsible for realizing some of these ideas, it was hard for me to stay at my role. I started thinking what I want to do next – and was offered a couple of very tempting roles within Zend – but then I realized that really, I want to make a bigger change.

And here I am.

For the last couple of months I have reduced my role at Zend to a 2-day consulting position, and will continue to consult Zend on a part-time basis for at least a few weeks.In the rest of my time, I plan to think, read, paddle, rest, blog more and work on some ideas I have. I plan to keep contributing to the PHP community, and specifically to Zend Framework 2.0.

Will I chicken out in 3 months and decide to get a real job again? Maybe… but I plan to make the most of my time until then.

HTML 5 Canvas Game of Life

I recently started looking into different HTML 5.0 related technologies, one of the most exciting ones being the new Canvas tag and API.

As a little test, I’ve implemented a little Game of Life thing using HTML 5 Canvas, which you can see in action here: http://arr.gr/playground/life/ (view source to see the code behind it).

Game of Life in HTML5 Canvas

The algorithm is not very smart so it’s kind of slow and CPU intensive, but still fun to watch. It works nicely on Firefox 4.0, and latest Chrome and Safari versions, and a bit slow on Firefox 3.6. I did not test with any IE version but I do not expect it to work in IE 6 or 7, maybe 8 and probably 9.

I think Game of Life by itself is worth at least an entire post regardless of this HTML5 implementation, especially because I’m a big fan of things that bring CS and philosophy together, so I may write about it at a later point, but for now I suggest you let it run for a while (a few hundreds of generations) and see what you get :)

Utopia in the header file

This is from the top of sqlite3.h, the header file for the SQLite3 library – most source file would have a copyright notice here referring people to read their license, but since SQLite is public domain, the author decided to put this instead:

** The author disclaims copyright to this source code. In place of
** a legal notice, here is a blessing:
**
** May you do good and not evil.
** May you find forgiveness for yourself and forgive others.
** May you share freely, never taking more than you give.

I have to admit I find this inspiring. For me, it is a strong reminder that dealing with legal limitations (on software and any other form of “intellectual property”) is at best no more than a necessary evil. That goes for free software licensing as well.

Experimenting with Glista on OS X

I haven’t blogged in a while, probably because I was too busy. I’ve been working, started to take some university classes (Philosophy & Computer Science), and… I’m doing most of my work on Mac OS X now. Don’t worry, I’m still a Linux guy – but mostly for work purposes (and out of curiosity) I decided to ask Zend for a Macbook when my Thinkpad was starting to die.

Unfortunately the negative side effect of this is that I had to put Glista on hold – since I didn’t have a Gtk+ based desktop anymore there wasn’t much point in actively working on it.

However, in the last couple of days (following some patches that came in from ananasik, for whom I immediately gave commit access) my fingers started itching, and I decided to play with porting Glista to OS X – and found this project.

After some hours of tinkering, crashing, building, rebuilding and breaking things again, I now have a somewhat working (albeit ugly, and not so OS X friendly) working Glista.app Application bundle running on my own 32 bit OS X 10.6:

Glista running on native OS X for the first time!

 

Glista in the Dock!

If you’re really up for it, you can get a Disk Image here.

You can also build it from source by checking out http://glista.googlecode.com/svn/branches/osx-support and doing the following:

  1. Make sure you have all the nescesary build environment (XCode is usually a good start!)
  2. Install all the gtk-osx tools and libraries including ige-mac-builder and gtk-quartz
  3. cd into the source directory and run (in a jhbuild shell after installing osx-gtk) ./configure –prefix=$PREFIX
  4. Note that some things do not work on OS X yet (or will never work) like libunique integration, gtk-spell, libnotify integration etc. – that’s normal for nowRun ‘make’, don’t (!!) run ‘make install’ (well you can, but there’s no need, you’ll just pollute your system
  5. cd into dist/mac/ and run ‘make dist-mac’. If everything is ok this should create Glista.app in that directory.
  6. Move that .app into /Applications (or anywhere else) and enjoy!

So far, it looks like it’s going to be a long time before Glista will work smoothly on Mac – and most of it is because Gtk+ is not really that portable, and making it use OS-native widgets and rendering seems to be quite a challenge. I also don’t feel I know enough about the internals of Gtk+, Quartz or OS X in general in order to help with that effort – but who knows, maybe I’ll be able to help somehow?

BTW I’m not sure if that binary will work on anything but OS X 10.6 on Intel 32 bit. If you try, let me know!

How much is listening to your customers worth?

I normally don’t write about work. The reason is that I feel that the slight chance that someone might feel I’m being biased towards a product that comes from the company I work for and dismiss my thoughts as “guerilla marketing” is not worth it.

However, I’m going to make an exception – and that’s because I prefer selling Zend here rather than doing it on Lukas Smith’s blog :)

Lukas raises the question of what commercial PHP distribution should be used as an alternative to RHEL outdated packages. My answer on that would be, surprisingly – use Zend Server! (well, …once it’s out of beta, of course).

Lets put the features and SLA you get from Zend Server aside for a moment.

The real reason I think you should use Zend Server is because the Zend Server product manager (hey, that’s me!) reads your blog. I’m serious about this.

I’m not sure I can quantify this, but I think that a vendor that listens so closely to what potential users (and the community) has to say is worth quite a lot in the long run. And yes, Zend has not been perfect in listening to the community – but I can honestly and whole-heartedly say that we are trying harder. The recent feedback on Zend Server gives me the feeling that we are doing ok too.

Finally, it’s out: Zend Server

I normally try not to write about work related stuff… but this is a special occasion.

Zend Server is finally out for public beta. o/

I was working so hard on this for the last year, It kind of feels like I’ve just crapped an Elephpant ;)

Seriously now, I really like this product. I think it has great potential. I know a bunch of very good people who worked very hard on it, and deserve every bit of gratitude. We went over some rough times at Zend and we still were able to release this wonderful product! I’m so proud… :)

Priceless: “The Issuer Certificate Is Unknown”

Firefox: "mossad.gov.il uses an invalid security certificate"

Another example of the all-so-frightening invalid HTTPS certificate warning in Firefox 3.0. I just found this one to be a bit ironic :)

BTW The Mossad website is mostly for recruiting purposes, they don’t really let you search their archives on-line or anything… to bad, that could have been interesting :P

(and one more thing: yes, it’s “The Mossad” and not just “Mossad” as it’s frequently mis-translated in foreign media. “Mossad” literally means “Institute” or maybe in a less literal translation, “Agency”. There are many institutes and agencies, but there is only one “The Institute”)

Seven Things – Tagged by Ivo Jansch

“I was hopping along, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, up he comes…Cures me! One minute I’m a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood’s gone!”

So apparently I was tagged by non other than the mighty Ivo Jansch, thus forced into some silly chain-blogging game. After managing to teach everyone in my life including the tech-clueless to never forward any chain mail to me (except for my grandma – I did get her to stop but then she sometimes forgets not to do it), I get bitten by the most tech-savvy people I might know :P

Well, I can’t say no – especially after being titled “Product Manager and Smart Guy at Zend” (for a short period of time that was almost my official title BTW). Of course I’ll play along! It’s also interesting to see how far this goes :)

So here are seven things about me you might or might not know:

  • I never went to university – I’ve noticed some people state what their major was etc. – so, I never went to university. I never got the chance. While everyone else was in university, I was busy doing other things like learning to write PHP :) I always tell myself I’ll go in a year or to – but now that I’ve gotten into a position everyone assume I have at least a BSc, I don’t want to spoil that :) .
  • I never took any official CS training – I’ve frequently found it boring the way it was taught in school. Don’t get me wrong – I love CS and I sometimes find it exciting – but I enjoy it much more when I get to teach myself. I also tend to believe CS is nice but it’s a tool – not really a “wisdom” I’d like to learn in university. I consider other fields like philosophy, history, biology or even mathematics to be far more worth studying. BTW I did take a couple of CS university courses during high-school – I flunked one of them ;)
  • I started programming when I was 7 or 8 – in BASIC. Well, it was nothing impressive but this is how I started. I then went through some Pascal and some C but never got to any level worth talking about. Then in high-school there was the web, and I started playing with it, first with HTML and then with Perl writing CGI stuff. Pretty much at the same time I started experimenting with Linux.
  • I did that while majoring in Cinematography. Yes – the only thing I did learn professionally was making movies, and I still have a lot of passion for it. I especially enjoyed directing, filming and editing. I did try working for some time on several junior technical positions in the local film industry (2nd assistant camera operator etc.) and did get my name in the credits of some movies (who were major in Israel – so there you have it Ivo ;) ) but working for the “industry” so to speak was not so great, and I decided to drop it.
  • Just like most male citizens of Israel I did my military service after highschool – and didn’t get to touch a programmable computer for 3 years (I did get to touch some computers but they were not the kind you want to mess around with). I even almost became an officer (which means I could have spend more than those 3 years in the army) but I didn’t run fast enough. I still spend a few days every year in reserve training, but sometimes they let me off the hook when I have to go to some PHP conference :)
  • When I got out of the army and back into the real world, Perl was gone and all of a sudden there was PHP everywhere. I found out I could write the same app I wrote in Perl in a month in about a week in PHP, and the rest is history. Back at the time I wrote my first PHP app – a web site which is still running today. I looked at the code a few months ago and almost puked.
  • Before working for Zend, I worked for a local ISP which as managed by the biggest Linux geek I’ve met (no wonder it’s out of business by now) – that was a lot of fun. Before that, I did all sorts of things – I herded goats, I picked cherries and I grew long curly hair. I got to Zend by pure chance – I didn’t even knew they were an Israeli company until I met a cousin of mine who told me he was working there!

So… those are my seven things!

And now, who to tag? I have very few candidates left – I hardly have any blogging friends who haven’t already been tagged… So here are my people, hopefully they’ll forgive me:

  • Nir Yariv – friend, family member, and one of the smartest (infrequent) bloggers I know (he’s also the guy who got me into Zend).
  • Christer Edvartsen – fellow PHP coder, ZF contributor, and occasional (one a year or so) drinking buddy
  • John Coggeshall – Ex-Zender, Current CTO at ACS, PHP author, and well, another occasional drinking buddy
  • Stas Malyshev – PHP Internals Guru and Zend’s 1st employee
  • Boaz Rymland- Another ex-colleague, Drupal expert and a certified social worker
  • Andi Gutmans – Fellow Zender and, wel… you all know him don’t you?
  • Zeev Suraski – Well you know him too don’t you?

Well… that’s my list – let’s see how many of them step up to the plate!

Oh – and here are the rules for any bloggers who decide to follow up:

  • Link your original tagger(s), and list these rules on your blog.
  • Share seven facts about yourself in the post – some random, some wierd.
  • Tag seven people at the end of your post by leaving their names and the links to their blogs.
  • Let them know they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blogs and/or Twitter.