Introducing Ask

Sometimes, our developers are a bit too busy to come up with blog topics on their own. They’ve requested we have the masses feed them to them directly, instead.  So in an effort to make their lives easier (and to stop us from having to beat posts out of them each week), we’ve created a new category: Ask  Here, we hope to open up to our readers and answer any of your questions on anything ranging from UI/UX design concepts, complex development issues, architecture and code concepts and everything in between.  We’d also love for you to seek reviews of websites, services, books or anything else related to technology or that you happen to find interesting in the field.

So start submitting your ideas for topics you’d like us to cover, your questions, and your links for our review now!  We’ve added this handy form that shows up on the sidebar when you are in the Ask HTMList section of the site to make it easier on you.   And of course, you can email your questions to ask [at] htmlist [dot] com. Try to stump us; we’ll let you know if we had to cave to Google in our responses!

Posted in: Announcements, Ask

Magento eCommerce Review: Platform Perils and Impressions, Three Months In

It’s been about three months since I broke into Magento for my first project here at Synapse Studios so I thought I’d give my impression on the shopping cart tool having gotten to know it a bit better.

Obviously a free, full-featured, shopping cart and e-commerce solution is great concept. I mean, really, one can’t bitch too much about something that is free (notwithstanding, say, venereal diseases or OScommerce…) Magento’s feature list is comprehensive: coupons, specials, multiple checkout and shipping options, tiered pricing, layered navigation, etc. Unfortunately, when you are neck-deep into anything, you get a better sense of the minor and major flaws lurking just under the rosy surface. Take a look after the jump at some of its more vexing problems.

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Posted in: Development, Reviews

Cuil: Search That Sucks or: How NOT To Launch A Search Engine

Search engine Cuil (pronounce it however the hell you want to, but apparently they prefer “cool”) launched yesterday to a whole lot of “Google-killer” OMG vibes. And thus far, it really rather sucks.

The home page is Google-simplistic: Logo. Input box. Search button. Over-inflated index count. About link. Privacy link. On black. (Which is, I hear, the new black.) Start typing and a helpful suggest engine ala Google Suggest pops up. Cheers.

Try to search. One of several things will happen. Since we’re out of the “our servers are cooked” phase of things, chances are, you’ll get a results page. But if you were lucky to give it a shot early on, you’d just be flat presented with a “no results found” page. I searched “web application development” and “web development” and both came up with a 0-results page. This is apparently because the caching system isn’t able to retrieve results on the first request so instead places them in a queue. Except that Cuil doesn’t bother telling you that they’re still getting their shit together and that you’ll need to check back when they’ve actually pulled and cached those results. Not that you’d want to. Here’s why, after the jump.

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Posted in: Rants

8 Great Free Icon Packs for Web Developers

It’s surprising how effective a couple of great icons can be. They add polish to an application and really ties the room together, so to speak. And while some applications really need a consistent look-and-feel and thus, custom icons for every single course of action, a lot of the time, there’s no sense in reinventing the wheel. Especially when there are royalty-free, attractive icons available in convenient, aesthetically-homogenous packs. Mmm, icon packs.

So we present to you a round up of a few free icon packs that you can use in your web pages and applications.

And if you haven’t already, make sure you take a look at Smashing Magazine‘s comprehensive, enormous icons post from earlier this month: 55 Free High Quality Icon Sets

Enjoy, but make sure you note the licensing attached to these sets; some are Creative Commons-Attribution or No-Commercial.

Silk Icons” and “Flag Icons” by Famfamfam
Mini Pixel Icons by N.Design
“”Twotiny” by Paul Jarvis
Crystal Clear” by Everaldo Coelho
bwpx.icns” by Paul Armstrong
Bitcons” and “Sanscons” by Some Random Dude
Web Application Icons Set” by WebAppers
Fugue” and “Diagona” by Yasuke Kamiyamane

Other Icon Websites

Note: Not all icons on the following sites are royalty-free!

Posted in: Cool Stuff, Design

Amazon Explains S3 Outage: Gossip Kills

Amazon has released a rather comprehensive write-up on their post-mortem analysis of why Amazon S3 went down last week. The S3 servers use a gossiping protocol to determine system states, including what servers are available and the status of the nodes across the network.

A single bit corrupted in several of these gossips such that they were still intelligible but reflecting inaccurate data about the system state. These propagated through the network (much like a virus, really) and caused most of the servers to spend most of their time gossiping or failing to complete the gossip; if the gossip doesn’t complete, the server can’t/won’t send its data.

While Amazon MD5 checksums data in containers to ensure its integrity as its being transmitted, they weren’t doing this on their gossips. They’ve since established several new practices to attempt to ensure that a problem like this won’t cause a failure across the entire system, including better failure handling with gossips and faster restoration when nodes do go down.

They end their missive simply enough, owning up in a way I give them credit for:

Though we’re proud of our operational performance in operating Amazon S3 for almost 2.5 years, we know that any downtime is unacceptable and we won’t be satisfied until performance is statistically indistinguishable from perfect.

“Statistically indistinguishable from perfect” is a rather poetic phrase, and I’d like to think we strive for that over at Synapse Studios. But my stats-masters programmer would just mock me.

Read their full statement here.

Posted in: Tech News

10 Ways to Ensure Your Data is Safe From the Feds

News that our US Customs agents can stop and look through a person’s laptop and digital devices when they enter the country happened to hit me very late. Only yesterday did I actually read an article explaining this gross violation of privacy; US citizen or not. While I would love to go off on the legal, constitutional, and ethical shortcomings of a policy such as this, I promised my editors (read: bosses) I would try to provide a bit more of an upside with my rants, instead of just straight ranting.

Thus I am here today to offer a few recommendations for those of us that still believe in the right to individual privacy. (And a few that might get you into trouble on your next time at the airport.)

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Posted in: How To, Rants

You Suck At Programming And I Hate You: Things NEVER To Do In PHP & SQL

One of the more exciting (by which I mean soul-crushing, murderous-rage inducing) things about my job is getting to look at the terrible, terrible code that runs all sorts of different websites on the internet. Chances are, you wrote some of this terrible code; I know I did.  It’s even possible that you still write such code. In case you do, go grab yourself a stiff drink (a strong vodka martini, or gin and tonic is recommended) and get comfortable, because I’m about to lay some edumacation on you.

Things You Should Never Do

First, I’m going to talk about some things I’ve come across that you should never, ever do. If you do these things and I ever have to work on your code, be prepared for the fury of ten-thousand burning suns to come crashing down around you, for I have warned you. Pay it forward by writing decent code, for one day you may find yourself having to maintain someone else’s heap of terrible code and woe, for you shall feel some tinge of guilt, having made other developers go through your new hell.

All of the snippets in this article were found in actual code being used in the wild. (And most of them come from a single, disastrous, amalgamation-of-fail file.)

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Posted in: Development, Rants

Linux CLI Tutorial Part 1—Some Under-Utilized Bash Tools for the CLI Feeble

Today, web developers have a number of platform options to develop on. Some like the familiarity of Windows combined with an IDE like Eclipse or Zend Development Environment, while others (like myself) prefer the more down-and-dirty method of vi on a Linux workstation. Whatever your taste (or skillset) requires, if you develop on the LAMP stack as we do, then eventually you may have to interact with the Linux command line interface (CLI).

In my few years of experience in LAMP development, I have worked with a number of developers with wide-ranging abilities on the CLI. I have oftentimes been surprised that even some of the very best PHP coders can feel a bit uncomfortable when faced with the CLI (hey, sometimes it’s unavoidable). So I thought I might write a series of how-to articles on some of the more useful CLI tools, to help the budding or even advanced PHP developer increase their familiarity with the CLI when they need it. Dive in, after the jump.

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Posted in: How To

A Simple mod_rewrite Tutorial: SEO-Friendly, Attractive URLs

As an intern here at Synapse Studios, I used to be naive about some things. [*Some* things? *Used* to be?—Ed] I’d visit websites, look at their URLs and wonder about the time and planning they must have taken in creating so many directories. Take this news article from Yahoo for example:

Does really have the directory structure reflected by this URL? Of course not. That would create an astronomical amount of directories in a website with thousands of index.html files. (And wouldn’t make any sense to begin with; that’s what query strings and dynamic pages are for.) But there’s a way to create legible, sensical URLs that mirror a directory structure but really include variables to a dynamic page. It’s called a rewrite engine. Through the use of a rewrite engine, we can create URLs that make sense to people AND that are attractive to search engines. Take a look at how, after the jump.

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Posted in: How To

Reviewing Facebook’s New Design: A Look At The News Feed

Facebook releases their new design tomorrow to the masses, after months of letting it percolate and allowing developers access to ensure compatibility with their apps.

While it’s clear that a lot of thought has gone into the redesign, it’s not so obvious what they did with all that thought, since the redesign really rather travels two steps backwards in a lot of ways. (Though I actually like the new profile pages, they’ll take some getting used to for sure and I’ll focus on them in another post.)

Hit the jump and let’s take a look at the new News Feed/Home Page for now.

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Posted in: Design, Rants