The beacon of light goes down, but just for a bit…

So, will be offline for some scheduled maintenance on Tuesday 2009-08-11 from 19:00 to 19:30 UTC (noon to 12:30pm PDT, 3:00 to 3:30pm EDT, etc). We’ll be upgrading our automated testing infrastructure, and some other code related to releases and issue tracking (which will facilitate implementing the redesign).

During the downtime, other * sites will be unaffected and available for your use (,, and Thanks in advance for your patience and understanding.


August 11, 2009 at 8:27 am Leave a comment

Professional Search Engine Optimization with PHP: A Fine Mix

What? Is this a merketing blog or what? Why would you even review a book about SEO on a blog dedicated to Drupal, PHP, MySQL and the likes?

Well, ladies and gentlemen, we all know quite well that creating a website that can be found among all the other sites on the web has always been important to the success of any site, and I’m certain that you as a programmer are quite concerned with the success of the site you have worked on for so long.

If you have content sites and want to make money, or you have some other motivation to want your sites to become as popular as possible, you must not ignore the importance of global search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. It is no secret that Search engine optimization, or as it is known by the geeks, SEO, is as important to the marketing of a website as image optimization is to its graphic design.

If you were not aware of that, try using a web server log analyzer tool, or a site audience analyzer service like Google Analytics, so you can determine how many visitors Google leads to your site every day. The conclusion: many users start looking for what they want from the Internet using search engines sites. I am certain that you will reveal that more than 50% of your visitors come to your site after having searched for something on Google.

However, having your site pages just listed in Google definitely is not enough. When the users search for something, pages from other sites may, and probably will, appear before yours. Users tend to click on pages that appear first in search results pages. I’m sure you do the same most of the time.

It is therefore obvious that the more pages you have appearing first in Google search results pages, more visitors you will get.

But, the question naturally arises, how Google decides which pages appear first, and What can be done to make your site pages appear before other sites’ pages? Those are questions answered by a relatively new Internet science named Search Engine Optimization, or in short SEO.

That is precisely the main topic of the book “Professional Search Engine Optimization with PHP” (Buy it on Amazon). This book is targeted at the PHP programmer who needs to understand the many technical issues involved when programming a search-engine-friendly site from attracting search engine spiders to site promotion.

Even if SEO is nothing new to you, I am quite sure that until reading this book you do not realize how much can be done from a architectural standpoint for SEO, and this book is designed for improving ranking during development and design of the website using lots of code examples and practice exercises which show how to implement the techniques covered in the book.

Among the topics covered in this book, for example, is the problem most sites are faced with when having to decide between visual design and spider efficiency. We all love to have our site visitors enjoy those cool looking interactive features, such as fancy menus, that can be created using JavaScript, Ajax and Flash, but the problem is that these same features make it difficult for search engines to find your site. However, web readers have come to expect a certain amount of interactivity and without at least a few of these goodies, your site will be bland by today’s standards. The authors discuss this problem and cover several ways to help such as generating SEO images and the use of graphic text.

Spread over sixteen chapters Professional Search Engine Optimization with PHP details vigorously the points of interest within a complex landscape of not always obvious techniques.

The book begins with a nice discussion of how to set up the programming environment including setting up the MySQL server and then move on to tools and resources for the IT professional and the basics of search engine optimization, like Google page rank algorithm and what factors may influence it, penalties that your site may get for not having things done appropriately, and tools that may assist in your SEO efforts.

One of the most important aspects of search engine optimization is the URL. The URLs that you generate for your pages must not only be search engine friendly but also people friendly. The authors discuss how to make the task of creating and managing search-engine-friendly URLs easier. Another problem you will encounter is duplicate content which will harm your site’s search engine rating. The authors discuss many ways to prevent or minimize this problem such as using robots.txt and meta exclusion.

Since one of the most popular ways to promote a website is with RSS feeds and syndication which, in order to be effective,  must be updated as new content is added to your site. This can be a daunting and time consuming task especially if your site is updated several times a minute. Two answers to this problem offered by the authors are to automate the generation of RSS feeds with a PHP class and displaying feeds with SimplePie.

Zooming in further, the next eleven chapters focus directly on specific issues such as the evil of duplicating content or answering the now obvious question of why site maps are important, and how to use social bookmarking sites to increase the exposure of your site, increasing the relevance of your site pages by making links to those pages appear in other sites, considerations about non-English sites or sites of interest for users of specific regions, etc…

This book has a specific chapter dedicated to black hat SEO practices. It explains what are those practices, why their bad, and what search engine companies do to fight them. It also talks about the legendary Matt Cutts, a distinct employer of Google that leads the company initiatives to what is known as search engine ethics.

The parts that really focus on PHP are the ones that provide examples of dynamic sites generated with PHP. For instance, there is one specific chapter that focus on optimizing WordPress based sites.

This book is for anyone that wishes to improve the ranking of their PHP enabled website or who needs to comprehend the great number of little details involved with optimizations.

July 29, 2009 at 3:20 pm 19 comments

PHP Cookbook: Need we say more?

Well, those familiar with O’Reilly cookbook series really don’t need much explanation in order to get the right mindset before discussing the details of this book. If you’ve read other books in the “Cookbook” series from O’Reilly, you are probably already in love with some delicious “recipes,” but for those who are new to the ‘cooking’, here we go…

To put it short, we shall just say that the PHP Cookbook is an extremely well organized, massively useful, and easy to read impressive collection of problems, solutions, and practical examples for PHP developers, from novices to advanced practitioners.(Buy it on Amazon)

Just like a real cookbook used in the kitchen to prepare tasty food, this book provides a unique and extensive collection of best practices for everyday PHP programming dilemmas, so that instead of poking around mailing lists, online documentation, and other sources, you can rely on this book for quick and tested solutions to common problems, helping you spend your time on those out-of-the-ordinary problems specific to your application.

For every problem addressed in the book, there’s a worked-out solution or “recipe” — short, focused pieces of code that you can insert directly into your applications. But, do not let yourself be fooled, this book offers much more than just cut-and-paste code. You also get detailed explanations of how and why the code works, so you can learn to adapt the problem-solving techniques to similar situations.

The so called “recipes” in the PHP Cookbook range from simple tasks, such as sending a database query and fetching URLs, to entire programs that demonstrate complex tasks, such as printing HTML tables and generating bar charts. This book contains over 250 recipes — a treasure trove of useful code for PHP programmers, from novices to advanced practitioners. You can safely rely on the PHP Cookbook to provide quick solutions to common problems, so you can spend your time on those out-of-the-ordinary problems specific to your application.

The contents of this book are organized by language components, which makes it convenient to find what you are looking for. Within each chapter, are very specific problems and recipes which contain simple and short code snippets and a description of what it does. Most problems are solved within one page. It is really concise and to the point. The index is comprehensive so it is straightforward to lookup the issue you are having, find the problem / solution and get on with your coding. You don’t have to read through lots of code or descriptions of why somebody setup a display template or complicated object. Look up your problem, read a quick solution, and that’s that, you’re done and back to implementing it in your code.

The first six chapters provide recipes for more basic subjects (strings, numbers, dates & times, arrays, variables, and functions. By chapter seven the authors are discussing classes and objects, and serves as a great resource for all your OOP problems. The next nine chapters cover the usual web development stuff starting out with basic things like cookies, forms, and databases, and later into more advanced areas like session management, XML, automation and web services (REST, SOAP, Mail, FTP, LDAP, and DNS to name a few).

Chapter 17 focuses on the topic of graphics which is important if things like creating a button image on the fly, or generating charts suits your fancy. Chapter 18 is on security and encryption which is vital to every web developer who does not want his/her web application to be the link that allows data to be compromised (That should cover over 90 percent of us, right?…).

Chapter 19 covers localization, while chapter 20 is on debugging and testing. The debugging section does a great job of getting a person setup with the tools they need to properly debug an application including creating your own exception class. This is an outstanding chapter that every programmer can appreciate since every application needs debugging.

The remaining chapters cover performance tuning, regular expressions, files, directories, command line PHP, PERL and PECL.

Also, among the various topics discussed in this book, you will find information on the following:

  • Working with basic data types, including strings, numbers, dates and times, and arrays
  • PHP building blocks, such as variables, functions, classes, and objects
  • Web programming, including forms, database access, and XML
  • Useful features like regular expressions, encryption and security, graphics, internationalization and localization, and Internet services
  • Working with files and directories
  • Command-line PHP and PHP-GTK
  • PEAR, the PHP Extension and Application Repository

So, although we would not recommend this as your first programming book (except if you like to learn by jumping in head first, and diving straight into code examples) as it does assume some familiarity with programming concepts, it can and should, however, be your first PHP book, since this book is like having the answer key to most of the random questions a person comes up with when writing code.

We found this book to be very useful, and we believe it will be one of those references that you will keep close by on your desk. That is why we would strongly recommend it to any PHP developer that wants to move on to the next level.

Anyone who likes to learn by jumping in head first, and diving straight into code examples will be right at home with the PHP Cookbook. If you’ve read other books in the “Cookbook” series from O’Reilly, you’ll be familiar with the format: problem, solution, discussion.

July 28, 2009 at 10:27 am 18 comments

Professional PHP6: professional to its max

I am sure you are quite excited about the upcoming release of the new version of our beloved PHP language, but are you ready for it? Are you actually ready to make use of the new features? Further more, are you aware of all the new additions and improvements in the language?

Well, if you are like me, you must be thinking ‘Gee, I really should get some preperation going before this new version rolls around’. Well, that’s why we would love to present you today with a new book called Professional PHP6, by Ed Lecky-Thompson, Steven D. Nowicki, published by the great people at Wrox publishing. (Buy it on Amazon)

Before going any further, I would like to just make it clear that this book is for PHP developers who are interested in expanding and leveraging their development skills by taking advantage of the features of the sixth major release, and that a solid understanding of the basics of PHP application development is essential before reading this book.

In case you are ready to go “proffesional”, this book is definitely worth all its value because by reading this one you will discover how to unleash the power of PHP6 and push it to its limits, and You’ll learn how to use PHP 6 in the larger scheme of enterprise-class software development and practical examples and behind-the-scenes information will improve your skills for designing and building better large-scale, high-performance platforms using PHP 6. The book also takes care of highlighting the differences between PHP6 and earlier versions.

This book goes beyond just showing you how to create a quick and uncomplicated site; it helps you deliver better quality software in a shorter amount of time using PHP6.

In the first few chapters you will get the chance to learn the fundamentals of professional development and a review of basic object oriented programming (OOP) concepts, before moving on to more advanced development techniques.

The authors eventually put all that information consumed into practice and build an application from the ground up using a model-view controller framework. Ultimately, you will get the inside know-how for pushing the limits of how to maximize the full feature set of PHP 6 .

Since this is by all means a “profeesional” book, you should expect to learn some quite advanced topics like how to use the tools that are available with PHP6, such as namespaces, collections, iterators, the roles of databases in enterprise applications development, and how to approach common software development challenges by using various PHP6 techniques.

Among other topics discussed, you will find information on the importance of quality assurance (QA) and testing, and how to approach it on projects of varying scales, and how to construct high traffic or high availability using PHP6 sites that resemble sites like Facebook and Flickr, so that you are able to make full use of PHP-driven content management systems and content management frameworks.

July 24, 2009 at 1:05 pm 9 comments

Web Database Applications with PHP, and MySQL: Your PHP Launchpad Station

Hello all,

Today we would like to preset to you another great O’reilly book that we deep very valuable for beginners willing to kick start their career in PHP/MySQL.

The book is called Web Database Applications with PHP, and MySQL by Hugh E. Williams, David Lane. (Buy it on Amazon)

As the title clearly indicates, this book is all about building websites powered by database applications. The book uses PHP and MySQL, two open source technologies the are often combined to develop web applications, for a scripting language and a database technology respectively, offering a fine mixture of theoretical and practical information on creating web database applications and detailed information on designing relational databases.

Since E-commerce is one of the most popular applications on the web and the development of such an engine employees a great many skills in terms of programming and database design, you will definitely want to get your hands on this book and use it as your personal launchpad into your PHP career since it will teach you both the concepts, planning and design process as well as some hands-on implementation.

Although familiarity with programming and computers is assumed but other than that, not much else is assumed. The authors do an excellent job of explaining some of the fundamental concepts underlying database driven websites, including important elements such as security, multiple users, managing inventory users, and multiple pricing. All problems in the book are addressed with a straight code listing, followed by text that explains what’s happening in the preceding steps.

With about 13 chapters and 5 appendices spanning 550 pages, the authors start out with an introduction to database applications and the web, continuing with an intro to PHP and MySQL, covering the main concepts behind web technologies and ending with the sample wine store application mentioned above. The main concepts discussed are querying databases, writing to databases, validations on the server and client, session management, user authentication and security. The appendices handle installation, modeling and designing relational databases, managing sessions in the database tier, etc.

Overall, the selection of topics is perfect for Intermediate programmers and the explanations are very detailed yet simple. This is probably one of the reasons this book is so popular. I have thoroughly enjoyed using this book and I am not surprised to see such a high quality book from this publisher. I am not familiar with the authors but I am going to keep an eye open in the future for other books by them.

All this is done in simple terms without too much jargon. To top it all off, a tutorial style approach is taken to illustrate how all these concepts come together. The tutorial is on building an online retail site that sells wines, the lovely Hugh and Dave’s Online Wines, a complete (but fictional) online retail site that allows users to browse, search a database, add items to a shopping cart, manage their membership, and purchase wines. Using this site as an example, the book shows you how to implement searching and browsing, store user data, validate user input, manage transactions, and maintain security. If you want to build small to medium-scale web database applications that can run on modest hardware and process more than a million hits a day from users (Not bad, hu?…), this book will show you how.

Programming veterans will want more than this book offers (although they’ll probably find themselves thinking ‘Gee, I wish I’d had this when I began learning PHP’), but newbies will find ‘Web Database Applications with PHP and MySQL’ to be an excellent launch pad for their future endeavors. And veterans who are responsible for teaching PHP to their subordinates couldn’t wish for a better instructional aid

Enjoy creating your own database driven website!

July 21, 2009 at 7:02 am 12 comments

Beginning MySQL: Not just for the beginner

Talking with many PHP developers, it is quite clear that one of the weak points a lot of of them face is their lack of a deeper understanding in terms of MySQL. That is why when we got Beginning MySQL, by Robert Sheldon and Geoff Moes, published by the great Wrox publishing, we got quite excited.

Of course, as the title says it is a “beginning” series book, but since we found that so many good developers are looking for a good guide on MySQL, we assumed we start from A and only than will we review the more advanced books.

For those out there who are not yet familiar with it, MYSQL is an open-source standard DBMS that is one of the most popular in being used as the back-end on millions of websites. MySQL boasts ease of implementation, minimal overhead, consistent reliability, and low total cost of ownership.

We found this book to be not only a wonderful starter guide to learning MYSQL but also as a great tool for people who have learned some MYSQL on their own and want a guide and/or resource for learning more intermediate topics.

In this book you will find great resources on how to get, install and configure MYSQL whether it be on a Windows or UNIX environment. As we all know, jumping into creating your tables before you understand design theory can be disastrous down the road when you realize you need to re-design your tables which can lead to hours of extra work. This is why right at the beginning of the book, the author on topics like how to create a relational database while explaining good design with normalization, relationships (one to many, many to many, etc), understanding what a data model is, and showing some good database examples.

The authors go into explaining the SQL (Structured Query Language) in how to create a table, retrieve data, update, append and delete data. The book spends a good amount of time on the basics of SQL and shows some really great examples. After the basics it discusses the MYSQL specific syntax and more complex queries and uses coupled with more good examples for each of them. The author does a great job of going through the syntax first then shows some examples and then goes through using the new syntax in a database project as well.

After going through the basics the book leads you into administration tasks such as exporting and copying databases, managing transactions, setting up security and optimizing and performance issues. The final three chapters cover using different web technologies (PHP, ASP.NET and Java) to interact with MYSQL databases and show data on a web page, being very nice change of pace that can prove helpful if you want to get into web development as well.

To sum it all up, we would advise every person who want to learn MYSQL to go out and get this book. Getting this book will assure you know your way around MySQL when your queries begin getting more complex than a simple SELECT statement… We believe that by the end of the book you’ll have a solid foundation for understanding MySQL as a robust, flexible, and easy-to-implement application that has many diverse uses.

July 8, 2009 at 6:08 pm 18 comments

The ideal point A: Head First PHP & MySQL

By Naffy

Before I got the book, I would have never thought that such a creature exists out there. I must say that it was quite a shock seeing a playful and attractive book packed with exercises, quizzes, puzzles, and other interactive features to help you retain all the PHP and MySQL you need to get going. Yeah, it was a huge surprise, but let me tell ya, it was all for the good, because I believe this is the book every beginner needs when starting out on the long path that is web development. (Amazon Link)

According to the authors and creators of this great masterpiece, all the photos and eye-engaging, mind-grasping content are built upon the latest research in cognitive science and learning theory to craft a multi-sensory learning experience.

So, who is this book for? Well, if you have done some HTML, some CSS maybe, but you want to get into the big league and harness the power of PHP and MySQL in a variety of contexts, than just hop on and get this book.

I can say with confidence that this book is definitely the ultimate learning guide to building dynamic, database-driven websites using PHP and MySQL. One of the many nice features of this book is the face that it is just packed with real-world examples, which helps in teaching you all the essentials of server-side programming, from the fundamentals of PHP and MySQL coding to advanced topics such as form validation, session IDs, cookies, database queries and joins, file I/O operations, content management, and more.

The major difference between this book and others is quite obvious just by a glance. The book is so visually rich and so appealing.
Using the book you learn along the way how to use PHP to transform static HTML pages into dynamic web sites, use create and populate your own MySQL database tables, and work with data stored in files. Building on the foundations you acquire along your journey, you get to learn how to perform sophisticated MySQL queries with joins, and refine your results, and also how to make use of cookies
(yes, they show up as with all the chocolate in the book…) and sessions to track visitor login information and personalize the site for users.

Although it is a beginner book, it does concentrate on security issues like protecting your data from SQL injection attacks. It also covers topics like how to use regular expressions to validate information on forms, and how to dynamically display text based on session info and create images on the fly. The book throws in some extra tidbits, so expect to find some nice information on pulling syndicated data from other sites using PHP and XML.

So, to sum it up, we can honestly confirm to you that the format of the Head First books is unique, engaging and effective, and we wholeheartedly recommend it to everyone looking to get into web development.

June 27, 2009 at 1:28 pm 16 comments

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