Synapse Studios Client “Nestablish” Launches

HTMList primarily focuses on the technical side of the web development work we do here at Synapse Studios. We’re mixing things up a bit with the announcement of the launch of, a comprehensive loan officer workflow management system, built as a startup for a few loan officers who wanted to make life easier for their fellow loan officers.

Loan officers frequently have to generate and sign pre-qualification forms and other specialty forms (such as Arizona’s Loan Status Update form) for each and every offer a real estate agent makes on a house. This can often come at inconvenient times, such as nights and weekends, when loan officers are typically off-the-clock. Nestablish allows loan officers to configure a maximum value for the pre-qualification documentation. The real estate agent is then granted the ability to generate the forms at the value they require, automatically limited to the maximum allowed by the loan officer.

This project presented a few interesting challenges for us, including working with the Fannie Mae 3.2 file specification to allow for the easy import of loan information into the system, and some complex PDF generation. Since each loan flows through a complex process with a lot of steps and required documents, we built Nestablish to allow the loan officer, real estate agent, and home buyer alike to track the progress on the loan approval and see exactly where they are in the process. This ensures faster closings with fewer back-and-forth during the typically-stressful home buying process.

We’re incredibly proud of our team here at Synapse who helped make Nestablish a reality, including Jeremy Lindblom, Andrew Reida, and Bob Eagan. We’ll be working with the fantastic team at Nestablish to deliver a whole new suite of features to the site very soon, but loan officers can get started today by registering for a free 60-day trial. (Nestablish is free for real estate agents and home buyers, and only $29.95 for loan officers after the free trial.)

Nestablish — Loan Workflow Management & Form Generation

Posted in: Announcements

Project Management Tips from the Developer’s Point of View

Today’s post is on something a bit different but still very much relevant in the web development world: project management. Now, I’m not all that old and I haven’t been a web developer for all that long (about 6 years in total, 3 actually getting paid ;-) but I have had the opportunity of working for a medium-sized media company with a development team of about 25 developers, a small 5-6 person development company (3 developers), and as an independent contractor.

When I began my career at the medium sized company, I initially saw my project managers as a pain in the ass. All I was interested in doing was coding. I had my own ideas of how the project or feature was going to be done and I thought that I could handle deadlines and project requirements better than they could. Was it really necessary to ask me multiple times a day what I was doing and what percentage of the project was still left to be done? PM’s gave new meaning to the phrase “avoid like the plague.” In all honesty, I wondered why in the hell these people were even hired to begin with. I just could not see the role of a project manager as being all that important.

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Posted in: Articles, Development, How To

Free Software and Open Source Alternatives to Save You Money

The development for open source software is strong and growing. Open source software is software in which the source code is publicly available for examination or contribution. If you talk to a typical person or business, you’ll usually find that their computers are all running Windows and have Microsoft Office installed. Some may even have more expensive software installed like the Adobe Creative Suite applications. By buying and using such high-priced software, it is easy to shell out two or three times as much money on software than on the computer itself. With many capable alternatives, there is a lot of money to be saved by utilizing free and open source software.

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Posted in: Cool Stuff, How To

Handling State in Multiple Windows and Flaky Connections

The Interweb is a wonderful place to host complex web applications as long as you’re tethered to it by Cat5 and an ISP that has your back (Communism works out in this scenario as well). But that’s not the world we live in, and in all other cases using web applications from mobile platforms can be a new circle of Dante’s Inferno below that ice one.

The trouble with web applications on mobile platforms is two fold. First, displaying data for mobile devices is a problem in and of itself, for which I will say nothing more about in this article. Imagine users with laptops and tablet-PCs. The second and more interesting problem revolves around maintaining state and managing client server interactions in an environment where spotty network coverage and ambient radio noise are totally messing with your stuff.

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Posted in: Design, Development, How To

Why you really, *really* should document your code properly, inside and out

Coders like to code; coders don’t like to write. It’s no secret that thorough and approachable documentation is a rarity in the coding world. Despite its necessity for the adoptability of a given software package, finding good documentation is notoriously difficult. I’ve seen “documentation” consist of a simple phpDocumentor run. To the folks at Magento: this is NOT DOCUMENTATION!!! It’s merely is an incomplete reference guide!

Maybe it’s because I’m not the greatest coder this side of the Mississippi, or perhaps because I actually have an interest in writing English, but I, for one, like to write documentation. In past projects, I have begged bosses and project managers to allocate time for me to document the code that I have written (every time I was denied…by the way). [Not the case here, for the record. We love documentation and Brandon's new. He'll come to see that. :-) —Ed] Good documentation, whether for internal applications or publicly available code bases is nearly as important as the code itself. Here’s why, after the jump.

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Posted in: Development, How To, Rants

Synapse Studios awarded Arizona State Board for Charter Schools Database Project

Synapse Studios is proud to announce that our proposal was selected for an enterprise accountability database project for Arizona State Board for Charter Schools. The project was awarded through Arizona’s SPIRIT e-Procurement system and Synapse Studios’ proposal was selected over six other web development companies who submitted proposals.

Our proposal received a 938 out of a possible 1000 points on their evaluation criteria, with the following comments for our Method of Approach:

Excellent five-phase method of approach; communication and progress reporting; timeline. Excellent case studies. Communication doesn’t appear to be a problem since it’s a local company and they are willing to communicate in person and by phone. Best Method of Approach proposed, meets and exceeds all Scope requirements.

The application will handle accountability and compliance tracking and management for the State Board. Synapse Studios is proud to add the State Board for Charter Schools to their roster of government clients. The project is slated to be completed by the end of 2008.

Posted in: Announcements

Meet David Bernal: Developer

My name is David Bernal and I’m one of the developers at Synapse Studios. I’ve been with the company for nearly 2 years, which, at this company is fairly long. I’ve been chest-deep in code since day one and have worked for various clients and on many personal projects before then.

As a developer, my primary contributions to this blog will be about enterprise patterns and reuse ability as we implement them in client projects and particularly in the Canopy Framework. One of my particular strengths is the wide variety of experience I have beyond the realm of PHP-based web development. In a previous life as a desktop application developer I worked primarily with C# and so I have experience with the things the .NET library does well and those which PHP does better. Based on this experience, I’ll be working with the team this summer to incorporate some exciting automation and reusability enhancements into the framework. Stay tuned, as the coming months promise to be exciting times for the web’s next best application platform. [That's Canopy, we think]

Posted in: People

A workaround to the WordPress 2.5.1 bug

Recently we upgraded our blog to WordPress 2.5.1 and have been battling a horrible bug ever since. When we save or edit a post most of our content is sometimes lost. Unfortunately, it isn’t occurring with enough frequency for us to track down the specific cause of the problem and we have enough projects lined up over here to keep us from digging through the WordPress code ourselves to solve it in any reasonable time. So we’ve opened up a ticket in WordPress’ bug tracker that outlines the problem in more detail and continue to wait for a response from someone on the dev team to let us know what might be the culprit.

In the meantime, the fear of not knowing if your post would be lost when saved forced us to saving the content to notepad before publishing. This is a less than useful solution to the problem because even doing this it seems that once a post starts truncating itself upon saving, it continues to do it every time. The only solution is to delete it and start anew. [We're noticing the problem crops up most often when another user edits an entry not their own. It truncates the post arbitrarily and then proceeds to reject contributions to that post past the truncated length. Needless to say, the frequency and creativity of expletives uttered in the office has spiked dramatically.—Ed]

So today, I took some time to hunt down remote posting solutions that allowed us to save our posts without needing to log in to WordPress directly. ScribeFire was the first solution I tried and has turned out to be an incredibly useful tool. ScribeFire is a FireFox extension that allows us to create posts directly in FireFox and saves them to our blog via the WordPress API.

There is still some functionality lacking: the ability to change post author, adding excerpts and making use of some of the plugins that modified our post entry page to name a few. But we see their release schedule to be rather efficient and hope to request some features that make it into the next release (or until WordPress identifies the problem that forced us to this solution in the first place). [It should also be noted that the extension on the whole is rather impressive considering that it's blog-engine agnostic and works for many different providers.Ed]

Posted in: Rants

Newest member to the Synapse Studios team

We are pleased to announce that we have recently added a new programmer, Brandon Ching, to our company. This will be his first full week (he actually started last Thursday). He recently relocated from California to pursue his PhD at Arizona State University. I’ll leave it to Brandon to tell you more about himself in his introduction posting.

We look forward to adding Brandon’s expertise to our group and are excited for his input on our various projects. We currently have him working on a few of our e-commerce client websites that we will be migrating from various platforms onto the Magento e-commerce solution.

On behalf of everyone at Synapse Studios, welcome Brandon!

Posted in: People