I created a WordPress site for a client who needed to support both English and Español versions of their content, which involved using a plugin called MultilingualPress that creates relationships between sites for each language.

I developed the site locally on my server, and then after they created some content, migrated it to their hosting service.

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Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 9.16.20 AMI volunteer and provide technical support for a few non-profits, one of which is the Project Management Institute San Francisco Bay Area Chapter (http://www.pmi-sfbac.org) where I serve as the VP of Operations and CGO.

One of the moves I made in my first year with them was to migrate our event calendar to Eventbrite and Meetup. One of the gaps I found with Eventbrite is that it doesn’t have a way to provide a feed of events that can be used to update an external calendar, so I embarked on a little programming effort to create one.

Most calendar programs allow you to pull external events using the iCalendar (ics) format, and Eventbrite actually has a pretty decent API to allow you to pull the events, so I decided to write a simple PHP script to allow me generate an iCalendar feed.

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 8.47.53 AMThis started as a simple one-off for PMI-SFBAC, but has turned into an open source project at https://code.google.com/p/eventbrite-ics/

Looking at the code, you can see it’s pretty basic, just a few PHP classes, some unit tests, Netbeans project and data.

Once the code was working, I used the iCalendar validator at http://severinghaus.org/projects/icv/ to make sure the results are good, and (at least for PMI-SFBAC) they are.

Eventually this results in a URL that I used as a feed into the All-in-One Calendar from Time.ly which lets me show events on my site’s calendar along with any other iCalendar feeds I choose to add.

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 8.59.20 AMTo configure the All-in-One calendar, I just go to the Events in the WordPress admin panel, and add the feed.

After I add the feed I click the “Refresh” button to make sure the events show up on my calendar immediately. The events then get updated on a periodic basis (daily by default), and should keep you up to date.

Screen Shot 2013-02-25 at 9.06.58 AMAnother use I put this feed to is to add the Eventbrite calendar to my Google Calendar.  I have a calendar feed from Meetup, and several of my friends so that I can quickly see what is going on that day.

The same basic idea for Google Calendar: you go to your Google Calendar, click the drop down on “Other Calendars” and choose “Add by URL”.

This gives you a nice view of events so that when you are scheduling things you can see what’s coming up that you might be interested in.

For those of you poor souls still using Outlook, the same feed can be used there as well see: http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/outlook-help/view-and-subscribe-to-internet-calendars-HA010167325.aspx



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I am a big fan of Test Driven Development (TDD) and tools like Hudson/Jenkins to automate the process of having a continuous integration build system are key.

On my current project we recently started moving things to Amazon EC2, and rather than put everything on one big server, I thought I’d follow the best practices in cloud computing and make a number of small special purpose servers to take care of the project’s needs.

We’ve had a Jenkins server running for a bit, so rather than reinventing the wheel, I figured I could copy my Jenkins configuration to a new server and get things up and running.

I fired up a new Tomcat server on Amazon Elastic Beanstalk, and loaded up the Jenkins WAR file, which quickly got me to a working Jenkins server. This project is written in PHP, so I had to install PHP after that, which meant logging in to the server and running through the whole PHP and PHPUnit setup.

Once that was done, I scp’d the Jenkins folders from the old server, edited the Tomcat startup files to include the environment variable to point Jenkins to the right place, changed a few permissions, and everything appeared to be working.

I could log in, I fired up the build, and it appeared to be running – very cool.

But that was when the flaw in the design of the PHP unit tests was exposed ….

I was watching the output of the phpunit tests, and noticed two things:

  1. The tests seemed to be taking a really long time
  2. Every test was failing

Watching the console, each time a test would fail, the little “E” would print, then a few seconds would go by and another “E” would appear. Finally after many minutes (because we have a LOT of classes to test) the error output appeared, and looked something like this for EVERY test:

And of course there were 5297 of these … I did some Google searches for the PHP_Invoker_TimeoutException which mostly pointed to issues with upgrade from one version of PHPUnit to another, but the versions on the old server and this one were the same.

So my next step was debugging an individual tests. Running the test from the command line gave me the same error, odd. But then I ran the test using php instead of the phpunit call, and found the problem: I was getting a timeout trying to open a database connection.

The issue as it turns out, is a design flaw in our code that hadn’t showed up before: all the classes invoke a database connection class that sets up the connection to the database as soon as they are loaded.

Since the Elastic Beanstalk server was in a different security group than was allowed to connect to the RDS database, it was unable to connect at all, and PHPUnit would simply timeout before the connection failed (by default phpunit sets 1 second as the acceptable for a test to run in order to catch endless loops).

Now in theory our tests shouldn’t be hitting the database (at least not for these unit tests since we don’t want them updating anything on the backend), so this problem turned out to be very fortuitous. Because the Jenkins server couldn’t reach the database, it exposed a flaw in our unit tests: we weren’t mocking all the things we needed to, so the tests were actually opening connections to the database.

With some refactoring of the test classes to mock the database access layer, the tests all succeeded. Next we’ll need to do the actual DBUnit tests for the database, and Selenium or HTTPUnit tests for all the front-end and AJAX stuff.

I’m doing some work on a project that is using PHP, and have been working on setting up some continuous integration build scripts to make sure that we have a shot at catching errors before they make their way to production.

Recently some unit tests were added for the “forgot password” code, which uses the mcryp

t libraries which are not installed by default on Mac OSX, so I was seeing this error:

So some quick Google searches, and I found a couple of blogs with “how to” install the library (links at the end of this post), and proceeded to get this done.

First step was to download the mcrypt from SourceForge at http://sourceforge.net/project/showfiles.php?group_id=87941

Once I had the file, I opened a command prompt and ran:

Next I ran configure, setting the appropriate flags for my envirionment (note – I didn’t do this for the other configures, probably would have been a good idea):

This sets up the make file, so you can run the next two commands:

Next to make the PHP library, I needed the PHP source files, so I went out and grabbed PHP 5.3.15 (since that’s the version I have when I run php -version) by going to http://us3.php.net/get/php-5.3.15.tar.bz2/from/a/mirror. Note that you can simply change the version number in that URL to get the version you need.

Once I had that I did the following:

This of course gave me an error about autoconf not being installed:

From there I installed autoconf by doing the following:

Then back to the php mcrypt folder and reran the phpize step to and finish building:

Finally an edit to the php.ini file which was simply to add the extension:

And of course a quick restart of Apache and the extension shows up and I can run my unit tests successfully.

Related posts:



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I have been running my development for VolunteerCake with a database on my Windows box which sits in my office with my Mac. I went to meet some people at a coffee shop, and realized that I couldn’t show them the app running on my MacBook because I was no longer on the same subnet with my Windows box, so I decided to move the database to the Mac to allow me for this.

Since I had everything in place to run Cake on my Mac except for MySQL, the first step was to install MySQL. This turns out to be pretty painless. Just grab the DMG from the MySQL site, and voila, new MySQL running on my Mac. Checked everything out using the MySQL administration tools, and it all looks good (I can access the DB, set up users, etc.)

Next I need to put the data in the database, so I just do a quick export from the phpmyadmin page on the PC. I end up with a file that is the SQL needed to replicate the entire database on my Mac. I run this SQL into the Mac MySQL, and now I have an exact copy of the database on my Mac.

After that, I go to the SQL administrator tool and make sure I have the user set up to give access to that database and make sure the username and password are the same as I was using on the PC (if I were more of a DBA, I’d probably have done this with command line MySQL, but I like GUIs, especially for things I don’t do every day, and the MySQL tools are pretty cool).

Then I need to change my database.php to point at the local database in order for VolunteerCake to get the data from the Mac. This should be as easy as changing the name of the host name to ‘localhost’ from ‘monet’ since I’ve set up the user and access to the database exactly the same as what I had on the PC.

Finally, all that’s left is to fire up the same URL that I have established for my app on my Mac (http://test.lctd.org/VolunteerCake) and … wait, that didn’t work. It says it can’t find the table acos for the Aco model …

Weird, the table is there, I can connect just fine, what could this be? A quick trip to the IRC channel, and I get the suggestion of clearing my cache. OK, try that … But hit the URL again and no change.

OK, now I’m confused, so I try running ‘cake bake’ … Now something interesting: I get an error that tells me that it was unable to connect to /var/mysql/mysql.sock – what does that mean? I thought I was connecting with a TCP socket, why does it want a file? Is this some sort of file permissions issue ?

Back to the IRC chat for some guidance, thinking maybe it’s a common problem, a permissions issue or something, of course they tell me to do exactly what I’d tell somebody else to do: verify that you can connect from PHP first. Good idea – so I whip up a quick connection test page, and get the same error. So now I’ve confirmed that it’s a PHP problem, and not a Cake issue.PHP can connect to a remote DB, but not the one on my local Mac …

Now it occurs to me that I often have problems that end up being related to the open source software that came bundled with the Mac, so I do some Google searches on PHP connection to MySQL for Mac OS X, and with the connection error messages. Eventually I find what looks to be the issue: for some reason the MySQL configuration sets the socket file to /tmp/mysql.sock but the PHP that comes with the Mac is looking somewhere else (at /var/mysql/mysql.sock to be specific). So I basically have three choices, edit the php.ini, edit the mysql config file, or build symlinks to make the file accessible at both locations.

I decide to change the php.ini file, which turns out to be another excercise in hunting, since Mac OS X likes to hide the files you’d expect to find in the /etc directory. After some more Google searches, I find that the PHP5 install that comes with Leopard puts the php.ini file into /private/etc, so I edit that file, changing the part of the file that looks like the following:

To be:

In order to have PHP find the mysql.sock in the location that MySQL is actually creating it. Check my URL again, and voila, everything is working !!!

So, to make a long story even longer, I relearned that mixing actual open source with vendor open source is often problematic. It was suggested by at least one person (Mark Story) on the IRC channel that the best way to set up for Cake development on the Mac is to use MacPorts, since then you end up with matching versions of the software all in a “normal” open source location.

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I ran into an odd problem with the way Cake is coded that tripped me up for a couple of days. Because I hate it when things don’t work the way I think they should, I spent way more time debugging this than anybody should.

I got my basic RESTful service working for the VolunteerCake project, and everything was working swimmingly, until I needed to turn on debug to figure something out …

When I had the debug level set to less than two (2) calling the action I was interested in with an extension of “.xml” was working fine. I got back the XML representation of the data in the action I was interested in returned with content-type of “application/xml”. In Cake, if you turn debug to 2 (or 3) it will dump out the SQL that was run in an HTML table.

The problem is that this HTML table is actually spit out  after the rest of the view, meaning that my RESTful service no longer has a well formed document to display. Additionally (for reasons I’ve yet to isolate), when this happens, the document is returned with a content-type of “text/html” instead of “application/xml” as expected. Neither of these things would be acceptable if the site is to provide web services, since it would mean the web services would be broken as soon as somebody needed to debug.

The workaround for this is to manually reset the debug level when the extension of “xml” is detected. Since the debug data is useful, and it’s just the SQL that appears to break the XML, I asked on the IRC channel what the last place I could set the debug might be. The suggestion was to put it either in the afterFilter, or the end of the view itself.

I found that if I put the following code into the beforeFilter method, I could prevent the problem with the price of losing my debug output:

That same code placed in the afterFilter method gave me the debug output in a well formed XML document (excluding the SQL table), as did placing it in the view itself. This leads me to believe that when debug > 1 there is some code that happens after the beforeFilter that is not setting the content type to “application/xml” as would be expected from our routing rules.

Being the bulldog that I am, I dug into the Cake source code to see if I could figure this out. I found the spot where the SQL table was being built, which turned out to be in the showLog() method of the dbo_source.php, which is called by the close() method. Since the close() is called after the view is finished, and the showLog() method simply prints the data, that explains why it breaks the XML. It definitely breaks the MVC encapsulation, since the data gets dumped into an HTML table and spit out after the view is complete.

On the IRC channel, it was suggested that I try creating a data source that would override the showLog method and spit that table out to a table, which might be worth trying.

I posted my question on the CakePHP Google Group and got the useful suggestion to use the FirePHP plugin which basically writes the log data to the FirePHP plugin so it can be displayed in FireBug. So my approach will be to write a dbo_mysql_firephp.php class that does just that. This will at least resolve the MVC encapsulation issue and keep my view relatively clean.

I still want to figure out exactly why the content-type isn’t getting set properly, but for now I have a workaround that I’ll use, and I’ll add the FirePHP debugging to solve the well-formed XML issue if I ever do figure out the content-type problem.

Off to set up my FirePHP plugin and build the dbo class now …

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I have a new open source project at VolunteerCake that is using their recently released web hosting service. This service includes the typical LAMP stack with MySQL, Apache and PHP, so I thought it would be a great place to keep a demo of the site running.

It was working fine, and then one day I noticed that the pages were being over aggressively cached. For instance, if I clicked the login button on the front page, and logged in successfully, I expected to see a “logout” button and my user name, but instead was seeing the original page. By hitting “shift-refresh”, I was able to get the right page to display, but obviously that wasn’t a good way to demonstrate the software.


During my work on figuring out my Plaxo problem, I found a really cool tool called Fiddler2 that acts as a web proxy and lets you do nifty things like see the headers on web requests. Using this tool, I was able to look at the cache headers being sent by the server which looked like:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Server: nginx/0.6.31
Date: Tue, 18 Nov 2008 22:02:49 GMT
Content-Type: text/html
Connection: keep-alive
X-Powered-By: PHP/5.2.6
Set-Cookie: CAKEPHP=b7pvoorvj11tb45micnfqhc4b2; path
Cache-Control: max-age=172800
Expires: Thu, 20 Nov 2008 22:02:46 GMT

Content-Length: 444

The part marked in red was the problem, the Cache-Control and Expires headers were being set to 48 hours in the future for my pages, so the browser was displaying the cached version of the page instead of asking the server for a new copy.

Knowing this, I opened a case with the SF.net support team to see if they could help figure out why the server was setting these headers for the PHP pages. I had a suspicion it had to do with the fact that Cake uses a new file extension of “.ctp” for the view files, but I really had no proof of this.

The SourceForge.net guys told me that their service had just been moved to some new servers, so it was possible this was related to that. They suggested that my application was responsible for setting the cache headers. While Cake does do some caching, it didn’t fit with what I knew. This exact same setup was working on my hosting service at http://volunteer.lctd.org/, which didn’t send those same headers.

I did some research on the Apache settings for cache, and while it is generally something you do at the server level, I found that it is possible to override these settings in the .htaccess file for a particular directory. Having had to tweak this file before to get Cake to work properly, my .htaccess file looked something like:

So what I needed to do was to tell the server not to set the Cache-control or Expires headers. After some experiments, I ended up with a new .htaccess file that looked like:

Which basically turned off the whole caching on the http://volunteercake.sourceforge.net site. Since this is just a demo application, I figured that was good enough, so I didn’t spend any more time on figuring out how to restrict the change to a specific type of file (which would be important if this were a large application).

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