PHP is fragile; Captivate is tedious

Yesterday afternoon, both John and Steve reported the perma-links on my blog were serving up blank content. Steve, in his enthusiastic thoroughness, had tested this on several browsers. This pointed to something on the server-side, which was theoretically plausible since I had been doing work earlier, albeit on a completely different domain. After an hour of poking around looking for something, all I found was disabling the “WordPress should compress articles (gzip) if browsers ask for them” feature made those links work again. Comments were still, inexplicably broken. There were no errors on the web server logs. None of the script files had been changed. Even rolling back the database to a known, good backup yielded no clues.

John dug up a link with a discussion about Dreamhost, my ISP, upgrading PHP. There were several reports of random, unintended side effects. My particular problem with the comments not showing up was resolved by disabling the Filosofo comments plugin — yes, the same one I’ve been using for nearly a month. Despite PHP5 being nearly three years old, the implementation is inherently fragile, reviled for its upgrades wreaking havoc on applications. Cue the flashbacks to AT&T’s C++ translator 20 years ago.

I’m beginning to rue the migration from perl/Movable Type.

Later Thursday, I was working on my trip report from last week, subtitled “Why sending Jim to Norway was good, but let’s just talk about the possibilities for Costa Rica!” This included doing battle with Macromedia’s (now Adobe’s) program Captivate, a program designed to record use of applications and generate annotated Flash animations. When it doesn’t randomly flake out and stop recording entirely (apparently a bad interaction with Photoshop and Acrobat also running) I have to edit out a lot of additional stuff it recorded. Screen snapshots with an action always default to a three-second pace for the highlight. When replayed, the viewer gets impatient because it looks like the demonstrator is a dolt. (“I know you want to click that Save button. Wooooooooooo! You can do it!!!11!!11“)

In three minute recording, I may end up with 140 frames, many of which have actions that would be obvious. There’s no way to change the default, and each frame must be individually edited. It’s especially mind-numbingly tedious because to do so, one has to mouse-over to shrink the highlight box, then scroll down to shrink the slide time.

Captivate has an auto-captioning system that posts a computer-generated label on a highlighted button. Many times this is redundant. For example, in the picture above, it highlights the “Save” button, then posts the text “Click the Save button.” Deleting these is just incremental over reducing the slide time, but I risk getting bored and inserting non-sequiturs like:

I know what you’re thinking, punk. “Did he click once or twice?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a three button mouse, the most powerful and accurate pointing device in this office, and capable of selecting your entire document, you’ve got to ask yourself a question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

These are obviously edited out of the final presentation.

Later later, Thursday, I biked to Renton to see Ted before he embarks on his mid-life crisis Tour of the Americas, spending the next 3 – 36 months motorcycling. Since he’s selling his house, this was also a moving party as he trucks his things into long-term storage. All of the folks there are avid motorcyclists, their bikes neatly parked on the street. It was highly amusing seeing my freaky, folding, non-motorized bicycle parked next to Ted’s tricked out, touring motorcycle. His friends jokingly referred to me as “the other kind of geeky biker scum.”When all of the large, heavy items were loaded, I bid adieu and biked home, completing the southern portion of the Lake Washington loop. The nighttime ride with clear skies (as much as it gets here) was peaceful, but several times the shadows played tricks on me. My bike’s headlight lasted the entire 3 1/2 hours of night riding.

6 thoughts on “PHP is fragile; Captivate is tedious”

  1. I’ve set up wordpress on my host several times in the past three years with the intention of migrating only to pull the whole fucking thing down and swear I’ll never try it again. Then something piques my interest with WordPress again and I’ll try it. I hate it. I hate it so much. I’ve done some programming in PHP but not enough to be able to hack around this weird crap that happens…. at least I know Perl well enough that I can figure out anything that’s going wrong and/or rebuild any perl modules that need to be updated without setting up an upgrade bomb in the middle of my system.

    That said, I’m sure many PHP people feel the same way about Perl, and MT has that weird ‘rebuilding’ thing, unless you use dynamic templates, which use–oh yes–PHP. I hate rebuilding but I hate PHP more.

  2. Aaargh… another thing I hate about Word Press — sometimes, for no apparent reason, it truncates information. I was working on an entry for today and it lost a table.

    Maybe it’s time to revisit migrating back…

  3. Ben – the rebuilding never bothered me as much because it was mostly intelligent – just the indices and the actual page that changed. One advantage MT has over WP is if the database flakes out, you still have basic content.

  4. So far my only problems with WP have been a result of my new host, I think, and not WordPress. You’re right, though, the security error was scary-bad but that’s why I didn’t install the patch right away in the first place (helps to have one of those one-click install hosting deals…yeah, I know, I’m a beta geek). For now I’m sticking with WordPress. We’ll see how it goes.

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