Dear WordPress. Please stop using MySQL.

This may very well end up being my last Blogger based post as I’m slowly adopting (self-hosted) WordPress as a publishing platform. I have a set of websites running on a commodity cPanel-based shared host, with a view to moving to a dedicated VM in due course. While setting things up and playing about with WordPress, I kept tripping over an obstacle that just kept getting in the way of doing what I wanted to do.

MySQL was that obstacle.

Dear WordPress, please have an option to use a file-based database (such as SQLite) instead.


Why would you want to do such a thing?

First of all, simmer down, MySQL is a perfectly good database. It does the job it was designed to do very well. My problem is that MySQL exists on a server separated from the rest of WordPress.

Think about what makes up a single installation of WordPress. You’ve got a bunch of PHP files, the themes, the plugins, the images and media I’ve uploaded. All of these are in a single folder on the web server. I could ZIP the folder up, UNZIP it later, push the folder into GIT version control, all in the certainty I’m got everything. Except…

Some of my website is not in that folder. It’s on the database. I can’t just ZIP the website up because an essential component is off in another realm. That folder does not contain everything and I now need to keep database backups alongside the folder backups. Grrr…

I was considering adding a plug-in to one of my live websites. Because people were using it, I didn’t want any down-time. Accordingly, I made a copy of the website folder and also made a copy of the database. The new copy then had to be reconfigured to point to the new database and only then could I play about with whatever plug-in or theme I wanted to add. Whatever clones and copies I make, the database is always at arms length and I need to be very careful that the PHP is always linked with the right database and that I’ve not got any cross-overs.

If the data on the database were on a file in that folder, there would be nothing external to keep track of. Copy the whole folder and job done! Taking backups would mean zipping up the folder and everything is there without worrying about keeping the two parts in sync.

Wouldn’t that make the site inefficient?

Maybe, but I plan to use very aggressive caching. There’s a plug-in where the site contents end up as static files and the code accessing the database only has to run when I log into the admin panel or the cache engine decides its time to update itself.

I can imagine this might not work so well for a site where changes happen very frequently. Maybe, but I suspect those are in a minority. For them, MySQL would probably still be an option, but it feels like for such a website, WordPress itself probably isn’t the right tool for the job.

Incidentally, I don’t plan to support commenting because I do find moderation a bit of grind. Because I’m just one person and I have other stuff going on in my life, there would be a very long delay between someone posting a comment and my approving it. The better quality discussion tends to happen on sites like Hacker News where there is an active moderation team that I can’t even hope to match.

Why not use a WP site manager tool?

Since WordPress are probably not on the verge of releasing an update with SQLite option, I will probably end up doing exactly that.

I already have tools for managing folders and zip files. Cloning a website could be a simple folder-copy operation were it not for the separate database. Tools that know about the database are very nice but it all feels like the wrong answer to the question. We’re all in a world where things are in the state they are in and we have to stoically make it work. Site managers fix the symptoms but they don’t address the underlying issue.

Picture Credits. (All CC.)
“Me And My Shadow” by “DaPuglet”.
“Trees” by RichardBH.
“Like a string of pearls” by Thomas Rousing.

I need a good podcast catcher (and a bit of a rant)

I listen to podcasts on my daily commute. These are radio shows that can be downloaded over the internet and listened to later. However, to keep up with a weekly show, I’d have to – every week – visit the show’s website and manually download the latest episode. That would get real tedious real fast. To resolve the tedium for us all, the podcast catcher app was invented.

Podcast catchers allow me to list all the shows I want to listen to. Every day or so, it automatically checks each show on the list to see there are any new episodes for me. If it finds any, it downloads them and plays them for me.

Currently, I use Google’s ‘Listen’ app, but that service is about to be closed down with the imminent closure of Google Reader. I need to replace it. I’ve downloaded a handful of alternative apps, but they all lacked a feature I find essential. I remain a little flabbergasted that any podcast app out there does it any other way.

“She smoothes her hair with automatic hand and puts a record on the gramophone.”

My daily commute is ~45 minutes of driving each way, so for me, a good player needs an Auto-Play mode. When one show finishes, another should start playing right away. There’s very few places I could safely pull-over and having to push buttons while I’m driving is right out.

But not just any Auto-Play mode. Oh no. All the apps I tried had an Auto-Play mode, but they all did it so very badly.

Ask yourself – When a show finishes playing and Auto-Play is switched on, which show from the list of unplayed shows should your app select to play next?
   A. The one that’s been waiting in the queue longest.
   B. The one that appears next in the list when sorted by episode title.

Did you pick A or B? Sorry, they’re both wrong, and yet these were the only options available on an awful lot of podcast apps.

The right answer, is to play the one the user has queued up next. The “In the order I want” sort criteria. No really, who is actually asking for the order of play-back to be strictly enforced? Would anything else, perhaps, offend your sense of politeness?

   “You want to listen to the latest Cognitive Dissonance show? But what about this episode of Hanselminutes? It has been waiting paitiently in line and this is its turn to be played.”
   “I say! That would be jolly impolite of me. Don’t want to hurt the feelings of those audio files. Pip pip!”

“I sat upon the shore, fishing with the arid plain behind me. Shall I at least set my lands in order?”

With Google Listen, new episodes join the listening queue, but I can arrange them in the order I like. If I’m just not in the mood for the next episode in line, I’ll select another episode that I do want to listen to and bring it to the top using the ‘Move to the top of queue’ button.

Once I’m happy with my selection of the next hour or so’s worth of stuff at the top of the queue, I hit play and drive off. As the first show finishes, its taken off the queue and the next episode I had queued up starts playing, all without any interaction.

The few alternative apps I downloaded did not offer this. It seems such a simple thing and yet I can’t imagine the insanity of not being able to control the playing order.

If one, settling a pillow by her head should say, “That is not what I meant at all.”

Some people reading this, I’m sure, are thinking “He wants a playlist manager”.

To manage a playlist, you’d need to first create a playlist and give it a name. Then you’d need to add shows to the list and save it. Then once its played you’d need to delete that playlist and start a new one.

No. That’s just another level of insanity. All I want is a button on each episode labelled ‘Move to the top of the queue’. That’s it. If I have to perform some ritual every day to create a new playlist or whatever before I can get that button, I’m not going to be happy. Life is too short for pointless ritual.

Maybe if your UI is so user friendly that the ritualistic parts of your playlist manager just disappear, that’s fine but that’s not what I’ve seen out there.

“Oh, I have to chose a name for this new playlist. Why not just pick a random name for me? I’m only going to delete it in an hour’s time anyway.”

So there is my plea. Does anyone please know of a podcast app for Android phones that implements its Auto-Play mode… correctly? I will happily pay a reasonable subscription fee for good quality software.

If you’re an app developer and your podcast app does it correctly, please feel free to use this page’s comments for some free publicity. On the other hand if your app doesn’t do it right, please treat this page as a bug report.

Picture credits:
Day 30.06 Voices on the radio!” by Frerieke on Flickr.
Listening to Radio Karnali” by the BBC World Service.
The section titles were borrowed from The Waste Land and The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, both by T.S. Eliot.

The cult of 140

Apparently, women don’t understand the offside rule. At least that’s according to some TV sports pundit who lost his job recently.

I don’t really understand the offside rule either, so I wrote this on my facebook page in response to the news.

The key to understanding the offside rule is that it doesn’t really matter what the rule is.

Make up any old rubbish, like “Goal keepers must be pipe smokers” and call that the offside rule. It is just as meaningful.

Meh. Hardly my best work, but I thought it just about good enough to post it on my twitter feed too.

That’s where I met… the cult.

FlügenWeb, Späcecode, TwitZöne, Ass Möde

Set in stone.

Twitter is famously limited to 140 characters. My message went over that limit by 78 characters. What to do?

“If it’s too long for 140 characters, make it a blog post and post a message with a link.”
Okay, but really? “Read my hilarious thought on the offside rule! http://bit.ly/√ế№Ω” (75 characters to spare! Yay!)

So my twitter readers would see my teaser message. A few may even be bothered enough to follow the link, but they would be disappointed to have made the effort of loading the page only to get such a short message.

Remember, Twitter is for short messages like mine. What can I do keeping within the Twitter ecosystem?

“The 140 limit forces people to concentrate on what’s important. Cut out the flab!”
Okay. I started with the counter at 78 characters over. Time to start trimming down until it fits. I finally got it down to…

“The key to the offside rule is that it doesn’t matter what it is. Making up some rubbish and calling it the offside rule is as meaningful.”

It was already a rather poor piece of writing when I started. Now, I couldn’t even find space for the bit about pipe smoking goal keepers. Just take it away and put it out of it’s misery!

So I’d like to challenge the 140 character advocates out there. Can you improve on my effort? Take my original message, trim it down to 140 characters and post it as a comment.

<Update> An anonymous commenter came up with
“It doesn’t matter what the offside rule is. It could be any old rubbish like “Goal keepers must be pipe smokers”. It is just as meaningful.”.
That’s probably the best the could have been done within the 140 limit, but this is the point; Is this shorter version better than my original version? In my biased opinion, no. The whole point of my message was about understanding the offside rule. Lose that word and it looks like I’m commenting on football itself.

It seems there isn’t enough room for big complicated words like “understanding”.</Update>

(Pre-emptive snarky comment: I’ve trimmed out all the bad parts of your message. I can’t post it because there’s none left!)

Picture credits:
“little ref” by Richard Boak.
“140” by Gabriela Grosseck.

reddit’d (Followup to ‘Construct Something Else’)

Fame at last! Fame at last!

My last piece, “Construct something else!” got a bit of attention when someone posted it on reddit.That was unexpected.

Remember the rule; If you publish something that’s a bad idea in hindsight, post a “clarification” article claiming you’ve been misunderstood and that you never thought it was a good idea in the first place. Then hide in the shower.

You see, I think I’ve been misunderstood. I was reading stackoverflow and I found the question asking about c# constructors. There was the comment from Eric Lippert, talking about the possibility of implementing this feature, but they were lacking a good reason to undertake the effort. Then I remembered I had exactly what he was looking for, a real-world use case! So I wrote up my experiences in a blog post and left a comment on the stack overflow question.

I thought I was rather clear that I was just providing Mr Lippert with a use case, rather than actually advocating it. Nonetheless, some people mistakenly took my post as advocacy and responded as such. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a shower.

🙂

But seriously, I remain of the opinion that implementing pseudo-constructors would be a good thing, but probably not worth the time for Microsoft to implement. But first, a quick aside to clarify (there’s that word again) how it could work. Just so we’re all clear (!) on what it is I’m advocating.

A pseudo-constructor would essentially be a static factory function. Call it, and it returns an instance of the class, perhaps using a private real-constructor inside. The only difference being that it can be called using the new operator. The compiler sees that the parameters match the pseudo-constructor signature and it generates code to call that static function instead. From a MSIL/CIL view, it’s just like a normal static function.

So why would this be a good thing?

Changing the interface without changing caller code.

This is the reason I raised in my original post. If version 1 of a DLL has a real-constructor, version 2 can use a pseudo-constructor in it’s place. The caller code would have to be recompiled, but the C# code would not need to be modified.

Intellisense™ simplification.

How many times have you needed an instance of particular class, typed new ClassName, only for Intellisense™ to show that no constructors are available. You slap your forehead and remember that this class uses static factory functions instead. If these could be called with a new operator, they would all appear in the same list.

(I suspect this was the original motivation for considering the feature in the first place.)

That’s it?

There’s a few good reasons not to make this change, which I’ll briefly discuss. Enjoy.

They won’t be real constructors.
(Thanks to reddit user “grauenwolf”.)

Sometimes, only a real constructor will do. When writing a subclass constructor, you can call the base class’s constructor just before the first opening brace using the base keyword. This would have to be a real constructor call, as you can’t just decide which base class to use at run-time.

Adding pseudo constructors doesn’t take away real constructors, but it might lead to confusion when people see that a base classes constructors have gone missing.

You don’t need it.
(Thanks to “Anthony” for commenting on the original post.)

You can do all this by making a class full of delegate instances. The constructor can select what functions to fill into those delegates at run-time. Add some [Obsolete] attributes so anyone writing new code will code against the new preferred objects.


So I don’t think this new feature would break anything, except it would be taking up the time of the clever people at Microsoft. Nice to have, but we don’t need it.

If you’re in the mood for discussing future directions of the C# language, please take at look at my earlier piece on destructors for structs. I’m interested in any thoughts on the subject or any reasons why it wouldn’t work.

I hope I’ve gained a little bit of an readership from this experience. If you’re reading this, please leave a comment. Without comments, we’re just bumping around in a closed system and tending towards entropy. Here’s some nice charts for a bit of insight on the reddit people.


Picture credit:
“The Walk of Fame” by flickr user Storm Crypt.
Readership charts by blogger.

About This Blog

Jawohl! I am Wilhelm von Hackensplat, software developer and evil genius. This is my blog.

I’ll be writing on software development, otherwise known as that-which-pays-the-bills. I’ve been doing this for most of my life, ever since mother Hackensplat bought a Sinclair ZX81 all those years ago.

I have tried blogging before, but I found myself really dissatisfied with the structure of a blog, specifically the normal view of showing the most recent posts first. To me, that’s not the most important thing. I want a casual visitor to bask in my unaccountable brilliance and see my best stuff.

This is my main beef with blogging software, that it doesn’t make for a very good document publishing system. There is a layout for blogs, and thou shalt not deviate from the norm. What I’d like is a document management system that includes a capable blogging sub-system. I would write my own perfect system, but time is short and life is hard. So back to blogging, here I am.

Genießen!


Picture credits:
Laboratory by tk-link of flickr