Also see the list of articles, none to be taken seriously.

If you’re going to be in the downtown Providence, RI area tomorrow, Thursday Sept. 13, please join us for the monthly Web Developer Lunch Hour meetup.

This time, my coworker Chris will demo Ruby on Rails.

Please RSVP [].

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Check out the beta of the new RI Nexus site, full of news and resources about information techonology and digital media in Rhode Island.

I wrote some new Drupal modules to support it. Feedback and suggestions are welcome!

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Thanks to Noosphere Networks, I’m releasing a script that helps developers of web sites built with Drupal to maintain separate development/test and production sites, pushing changes from test to production as needed. This is challenging with a stock Drupal installation. Changes to PHP code are no problem, because it lives in the filesystem and can be copied or committed to a revision-control system like Subversion. But a lot of Drupal’s configuration work take place within its web administration interface and is saved to the database, where production content such as user accounts and comments is also stored.

The desire to do this frequently comes up on Drupal’s forums, and the typical workarounds have some large drawbacks (involving some combination of extended downtime on the production site, duplication of work, and the loss of content, comments, and user account changes made in the interim).

This small script attempts to solve that by categorizing Drupal’s tables and moving only the right ones at the right time, while handling details such as merging sequence numbers. It also dumps Drupal’s databases to disk in a format that works well for checkin to a revision control system.

This is free software, licensed under the GPL.

Theres a more ambitious project called AutoPilot that aims to do this and more in the future, but its ability to merge test sites into production without losing production content isn’t available yet, and I needed something now.

Be warned, though, that this is an alpha release, intended for those with familiarity with MySQL and Drupal’s table layout. If you have CCK fields, there may be some manual work required when you modify your field layout because CCK tends to change your database schema, and Migraine does not currently attempt to automate all of those changes. It will detect them and warn of the problem, however.

See more information at the Migraine project page.

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I’m holding the next PHP meetup for the RI area tomorrow evening (Tuesday) at Trinity Brewhouse in downtown Providence.

If you’d like to join us for free-form discussion of web development, PHP, and various types of beer, please RSVP.

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Start the spring with a 7.5 mile hike through the Blue Hills. Begin at the Trailside Museum (Milton) and finish at the Shea Rink (Quincy). Spotting cars is necessary. This hike is for all levels, but geared towards beginner/intermediate hikers. Must be in good physical condition. L Stacia Zukroff, CL Andrew Shearer. 45 minutes north of Providence, half an hour south of Boston. It's free, but please register online.

(Trip sponsored by the Appalachian Mountain Club’s Boston Young Members and cross-listed with the Narragansett Young Members.)

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We have a new location and a guest speaker for our April meetup. Nate Abele of the CakePHP project will be here to show off the rapid web development framework and answer questions. We'll make time for discussion too.

The new location is a really nice conference room at the Johnson & Wales Academic Center, with everything that implies (i.e. a projector).

All programming skill levels welcome. If you're going to be in the Providence, RI area and can make it, please see here for more details and to RSVP:

Providence PHP April Meetup []

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With so many courses now available as podcasts, I’ve been catching up on subjects I missed earlier.

What’s great about podcasts isn’t just that they don’t cost any money, but that they don’t cost any time. All those intervals during the day when your ears and mind are otherwise idle—the oddly-shaped and otherwise unusable plots of time during commutes, exercise, or errands—can all coalesce into full-length lectures thanks to an iPod with a pause control.

It’s certainly not the full college experience. You can’t ask questions. But you can rewind and play back anything that’s hard to catch the first time.

(There have been classes available online for longer through other means, including MIT’s OpenCourseWare. But their focus on the text of lecture notes or on videos means that they require undivided attention. Often they use streaming formats that keep you tethered to an Internet connection, and the most common player, RealPlayer, still has inexplicably poor control over rewinding and fast-forwarding. Even rewinding a single second makes you wait several extra seconds for re-buffering. So watching the streaming videos isn’t nearly as convenient as podcasts, which download in the background in their entirety.)

After you subscribe in a program like iTunes, it will automatically download the latest lectures as they’re posted and also make them available when you sync with your MP3 player. (If you’re catching up with a previous semester, you can just click the Download buttons beside the next few lectures whenever you’re about to run out.)

Here are couple to start with.

History 7B: Introduction to the History of the United States, 1865-2005

Jennifer Burns, UC Berkeley, Spring 2006
Course web sitePodcast web siteRSSiTunes These well-planned and engaging lectures on American history after the Civil War are perfectly suited to podcasts. Their focus on changes in cultural ideas ultimately sheds light on the origins of today’s politics. The class doesn’t rely on slides and is perfectly understandable without any prior background in the subject. (My own previous background was a high school AP History class covering the same period, of which I remember just enough to know that it barely scratched the surface.)

Bio 2110/2120: Anatomy & Physiology

Dr. Gerald Cizadlo, College of St. Scholastica

Web site / RSS / iTunes

This class weaves all over (but no more than a couple of other A & P courses I sampled, so it’s something about the subject). You could make a TV series out of it that explored the body in the same circuitous way that the Connections series explored history. (Strangely enough, History 7B itself, because it hangs its themes on an overall chronology, would probably come out more like a well-edited reality show.) Unlike Connections, the lecturer takes a deliberately slow pace to avoid complete bewilderment at the end. The rambling, conversational style makes for relaxed listening, and despite some digression and repetition, he covers a lot of ground while making sure you don’t get lost, even without any visuals.

Putting aside the minor issue of slow downloads due to the college’s severe bandwidth cap, there’s interesting information here for body owners everywhere, along with explanations for all kinds of body quirks you probably long ago stopped noticing you had. It does of course lack its own TV series, but it might make House marginally more comprehensible. And anyone who engineers complex systems can take inspiration from the amazing self-regulatory mechanisms behind it all.

Another one you might want to check out:

Chem 1A: Introduction to Chemistry

Alexander Pines and Mark Kubinec, UC Berkeley, Fall 2006
Course web sitePodcast web siteRSSiTunes

This chemistry class is definitely entertaining, even as review, with multiple-choice pop quizzes that you can play along with at home, and a Mythbusters-esque love of wrapping things up with a bang. It does require more concentration than some other classes. Much of it is understandable by podcast, though a few of the quiz questions aren’t repeated out loud, and to see them you need to watch the RealPlayer video. What I did was listen to them first by podcast, then played the videos for the tricky parts.

More classes:

(Tip: When checking out a new class, you can usually skip the first half hour, or even the first lecture. It tends to be full of generalities and and administrative information, and you can always come back to it later. The second lecture says a lot about the teaching style and whether the class works in purely audio form.)

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Lots of geeky news. I took over officially as organizer of the Providence PHP meetup this month, and our next event is at 729 Hope St on Tuesday, February 6 at 7 PM. So join us for coffee, pastry, a wide-ranging, informal discussion of anything related to programming with PHP, or all three.

This time, we’ll probably share some of the projects we’re working on, so bring some screenshots or a quick demo if you’d like. (If this starts to run long, we can always go into more depth next month.)

Please RSVP.

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If your usual lunch crowd doesn’t talk enough about computers for your taste, escape with us to the monthly Providence Web Developers Lunch Hour. (Chris, the usual organizer, won’t be able to make it, so I’m hosting in his place.) Please RSVP here.

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We’re holding another lunchtime meetup this week, this time at Tazza on Westminster St. So if you’re in the Providence area this Thursday, Dec. 14, come join us. I’m sure your employer won’t mind.

Please RSVP, though:

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