Muschamp Rd

Been Building Something

March 10th, 2012
PHP logo

Once again it took way longer than I would have liked. Once again the common denominators are PHP and people who say look, here is my code, it does this, it just works, use it… Then when you write them informing them it doesn’t work they say “Oh I wrote that two years ago, I don’t feel like maintaining it anymore.”

Is this just a PHP thing? Or do lots of people write long detailed blog posts and post large amount of code that they just abandon?

I will admit that PHP is better than it was 10 years ago and that there is a lot of examples and open source code that does work that you can use. PHP has even improved over the last few years since I’ve had Muskblog online, it is now much more object oriented, but it is still inferior to Java or Objective-C. There is a real problem with consistent naming conventions, version-ing, and readability in general. PHP comes from UNIX and Perl and that is more and more of a handicap as kids grow up with iPads. What’s a command line? Why does “string” get shortened to “str” or “strn” sometimes but not other times?

Screenshot of my miniature painting news aggregator

What I’ve been building is a news aggregator. They aren’t new, I remember setting up a my.excite.com back in 1996 or so. What has changed is the amount of content that is online that you can subscribe to. The tool I decided to use was SimplePie. What I wanted to do was replace the From The Warp Blogger Group. I talked to Ron about it. It might still happen. Unfortunately even using the latest greatest version, I seem to have encountered a bug. I documented it on Stack Overflow. The HTML and CSS layout to News Blocks 2.0

Not all RSS feeds are created equal. Not all feeds are even RSS, Atom I always thought was a “me too” technology but it might actually work better. Some websites definitely have better functioning Atom feeds with RSS being their fall back strategy. Other websites only provide RSS feeds so you have to work with it regardless of technical merit. One thing  that isn’t up for debate, is the superiority of WordPress over Blogger, at least not in my mind. I don’t understand why people keep creating Blogger blogs when they could be creating WordPress blogs?

Feeds from WordPress.com work. Feeds from blogspot.com work but not quite as well, especially where SimplePie is concerned. It is possible to move your content from Blogger to WordPress. If you are at all serious about blogging or brand building you should have already had a domain you could simply redirect. But miniature painting is just a hobby. A hobby that already can cost too much. But if you’re thinking of starting a hobby blog, do yourself a favour and choose WordPress over Blogger. There are other options too such as Tumblr. Blogger and blogspot.com seem to have obvious problems and flaws and a week of working with RSS feeds has only reinforced this opinion.

If you do have a blog on blogspot.com and for whatever reason you don’t want to move it to WordPress or another alternative, do your readers a favour and use FeedBurner for your feeds. Google bought Blogger/blogspot.com and FeedBurner and my testing has revealed that at least as far as SimplePie is concerned FeedBurner feeds are clearly superior to the feeds generated by Blogger itself. Apparently it is easy to enable FeedBurner in Blogger. Your readership may increase and you’ll be better able to measure how many readers your blog has.

Another thing I’ve never understood is why more people in the miniature painting community don’t use Flickr. Flickr has great RSS support, better than YouTube, another company/technology Google bought. If you’re noticing that Google has been buying up technology and companies and then still not producing the best product/solution, you’re not alone.

I’ve had to declare my miniature painting news aggregator good enough for now. It needs some more fine tuning. It definitely needs the next major revision to SimplePie to be completed or at least a work around to my problems fetching multiple blogspot hosted feeds. It would also benefit from more standard compliant feeds and better quality control among hobby bloggers. I however need to study or prepare for a job interview and I still very much need a real job.

Update November 22nd 2015

A lot has changed, blogs come and go, Pinterest changed their RSS feeds at least twice, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram largely abandoned RSS while upgrading their APIs. I’m living in China and need to use a VPN to use many websites, however I’ve spent time updating the code that powers my miniature painting news aggregator tonight. My other main contribution to the hobby has been to pin 1000+ awesome miniatures to my painted miniature pin board. Maybe my news aggregator has less content than it did years ago, but I don’t need a VPN to use it and I haven’t seen anything build anything better certainly not for an obscure hobby like miniature painting.


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