Development, General, PHP, Web Development

Using PHP Composer with GitHub Repositories

In my new position at GrokSpark, I’ve been building out the company’s 3MS MVP from scratch in PHP.  I’m sure I’ll write a post on why I chose PHP (I can hear the self-righteous and poorly formed opinions about why PHP is awful already), but for now I wanted to focus on something a bit more specific: Using Composer with GitHub repositories as way to temporarily circumvent a shortcoming of using open source libraries.

Stale Repositories

One of the libraries I’ve employed in my system for GrokSpark is Pseudo, a fantastic mock PDO library that I can use to test things such as my data models.  Though the library is fantastic, it also presented me with an issue that’s a bit more common in open source work than some people care to admit.

The system had some minor issues, which others had contributed Pull Requests in order to fix, but their work wasn’t accepted before other updates were made to the core.  This made the PR’s stale and the contributors hadn’t yet responded to the requests to update their code so it can be accepted.

This is completely normal and part of the open source process, but waiting didn’t mesh well with the urgency I have for our MVP.  Sadly, since there aren’t many options for PDO mocks, I had to take matters into my own hands…at least temporarily.

Composer and GitHub

Thankfully, Composer already has the concept of Repositories built-in.  There’s a lot of information available there, so let’s distill it to just the basics we need in order to access my new GitHub repo (I’ll assume you can fork a repository on your own and make whatever changes are necessary).

First, we open our composer.json file and add the GitHub repo to the ‘repositories’ array:

"repositories": [
		"url": "",
		"type": "git"

Next, add the package requirement (I put mine in require-dev since I don’t need this in production):

"require-dev": {
	"phpunit/phpunit": "^7",
	"jimbojsb/pseudo": "dev"

Even though this is a personal fork of jimbojsb/pseudo, the package name must remain the same as is present in the library’s composer.json (which is jimbojsb/pseudo in this case).  You’ll notice I set the version to simply be “dev”, which is done on purpose.  Now, run the following command and let’s see what it tells us:

D:\P\G\Rms [master]> composer update --no-suggest
Loading composer repositories with package information
Updating dependencies (including require-dev)
Your requirements could not be resolved to an installable set of packages.

  Problem 1
    - The requested package jimbojsb/pseudo dev exists as jimbojsb/pseudo[0.3.1, dev-master, v0.2, v0.2.1, v0.2.2, v0.2.3, v0.3, dev-AndyM84/22] but these are rejected by your constraint.

Now we see why I’ve set the package version to simply be “dev”.  This produces a list of available dev versions to specify.  In this case, we’re going to use the one that is the branch I created to include my changes, “dev-AndyM84/22”.

When I change the version for “jimbojsb/pseudo” to be this version and re-run composer update, it will pull the AndyM84/22 branch from my forked repository.


There isn’t a lot to this process, but it can be a life-saver when your timeline is a bit faster than the pace of an open source library you truly need in your code-base.  And best of all, when the main project finally contains the changes you’re looking for, you can simply switch the version and remove the repository before re-running composer update and Composer will take care of switching the versions for you.

Hopefully this saves somebody a few minutes of time and a lot of frustration while you live within the open source world.

Finally, it should be noted that the parties involved in the PR for Pseudo actually came back to life fairly quickly after I prodded them, so a super huge thanks to them for ensuring this really was a temporary fix in this case!

– Andy

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Development, General, PHP, Web Development

Config Migration

TLDR; I made a thing for migrating my configuration files, I like it, and it’s available for use here:

As the technology world settles into the ‘DevOps’ era and begins passing it out to other areas (looking at you, marketing automation), I figured I’d share one of my deployment “pet peeves” and solutions.  Further embracing my love of disclaimers, keep in mind that this is my own cockamamie solution, and I’m just as likely to be wrong as right.

The Problem

It seems there’s a bit of a gap in many companies’s deployment systems.  Numerous jobs I’ve held in recent years have worked hard to put various types of automation in place, but for whatever reason there wasn’t a lot of thought lent to automating configuration files during deployment.

In almost every case where this was possibly a concern, it was either expected that the system would gracefully fail when new configuration values were missing, or it would be left up to some poor release engineer to figure out which configuration property was missing and thus causing the newest in a long series of catastrophic upgrade failures.

Either way, expensive blocks of time were wasted or only protected because of extremely dedicated and entrenched individuals.  Is this a huge time-sink for release engineers?  Obviously that depends, but at the least this is hardly a ‘DevOps-y’ approach to things…

My Solution

With this in mind, I did what I do best/most-often, which is to create a solution before searching for something else that did the job.  My simplistic solution was two-fold:

  1. Restrict my settings files to be non-nested JSON strings
  2. Build a simplistic migration instruction set that allowed me to add, change, rename, and remove settings properties

#1 was mostly influenced by the infamous web.config files used by IIS/ASP.NET.  I love IIS and ASP.NET, but working through web.config files always felt to me like trying to navigate that corridor of horrors from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

That’s gonna be a whole lotta nope from me…

#2 is equal parts ego (thinking that I know better than everyone before me) and a strong desire to mimic the same sort of process used with database migration utilities, such as RoundhousE.

The result of this was a system based around files, named <OLDVERSION>-<NEWVERSION>.cfg (eg, ‘3-4.cfg’) that contained instructions similar to this:

coreVersion[str] + 0.1.0
siteName = A Site
database_host > dbHost
emailFrom -

This file would do the following things, in order:

  1. Add a new setting, coreVersion, of type string with the value ‘0.1.0’
  2. Change the value of the siteName setting to be ‘A Site’
  3. Rename the database_host setting to be called dbHost
  4. Remove the emailFrom setting
  5. Update the configVersion setting to now be the integer 4 (was 3)

I’d already been in the habit of using a script to manage my configuration files (keeps me from having to worry about the format of the file itself), so all I had to do was insert this migration system onto the beginning of that script.  This means I can now run my typical ‘version’ update call and feel confident that any new fields added to my setup script will be present:

php ./scripts/configure.php --non-interactive --PcoreVersion=

In Conclusion

After all of this jibber-jabber, this is ultimately a simple problem to which I’ve given a simple solution.  I’m sure there are other (better?) ways to handle this sort of thing, but until I find them I’ll be using this to alleviate at least one other thing in my CI/CD pipeline.

Just to make sure I’m remembering to share, I’ve published a PHP version of this system on my GitHub for your amusement.  I’ll probably throw this (or at least some version of it) into one of my many-splendoured frameworks at some point, but for now I think I’ll move on and get back to some actual work.  Enjoy!

– Andy

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Development, General, JavaScript, Mobile Development, PHP, Self, Weekend Projects

Weekend Projects Gone Awry, Part 3

Things will be a little different this time. With the two previous entries in this series, I was recapping work on a new idea/project and had to relay information about the project. This time, however, I’m simply extending Part 1 into the mobile arena and trying out some “new” technologies. That disclaimer done…here we go!


A Recap: SlimSocial

SlimSocial is the fledgling social network devoted to making “being social” more difficult. The key limiter was that a person can only post once per day, in theory cutting down on the useless chatter that happens constantly.


Going Mobile

After pushing out SlimSocial, several of my good (aka misguided) friends decided to latch onto the idea and enjoyed the concept. It didn’t take very long for the first “can you make it work on my phone” request to come through, and after the fourth or fifth in a row I begrudgingly admitted that I could probably look into making a set of apps. I made sure to stress to each person that it was a lot of work and unlikely to be something I’d complete for months.

So of course, I started on it a couple days later when I’d finished working on Part 2.


Executing (aka Enter Cordova & AngularJS)

Last year at Microsoft’s //Build conference, they made a pretty big deal about their new cross-platform features in Visual Studio. I’d avoided it, as my past work with cross-platform mobile development via Marmalade proved to be tiresome and less than smooth, but I decided I had an opportunity to give the whole package a shot.

One of the other things I’ve been avoiding has been the concept of SPA (Single Page Application) frameworks (Angular, React, Riot, etc). Generally speaking, I find the whole idea to be a quick way to ask for trouble with performance, and they just seemed like trouble to learn.

So there it was. I felt I had the opportunity to learn two new things, and I took that opportunity. After finishing the game engine for Part 2, I continued streaming on Twitch while I fumbled my way through learning both AngularJS and Cordova at the same time within Visual Studio 2015. In the end, I’d say I managed to dump an obscene amount of my free time into this extension of SlimSocial, but on account of forgetting to track my time we’ll just put the estimate around 80 hours.

If you’re reading this and are expecting me to begin expounding the merits of both Cordova and Angular, you should probably stop reading now.


Tech Notes

Now…I can be pretty opinionated. I’m aware it may be a bit of a character flaw, but it’s part of me so you’ll either learn to ignore it or you’ll go away. Learning two new technologies at the same time goes against some hard-learned lessons for me, but it’s not as though I intend for SlimSocial to ever be a serious time-sink (I understand that it has become one, but we’re talking intentions here).

Cordova seems like a pretty promising bit of technology. It’s not as though it’s a new piece of technology, I remember PhoneGap and others being around nearly 4-5 years ago, but it’s not the sort of thing I like to use on account of much of my mobile work having very specific performance requirements that can’t be achieved by wrapping an app within an app (which is basically how Cordova works).

That said, it’s not perfect. Some of the workflow can be aggravating, and figuring out how to configure things on the different machines, while not bad, is far from perfect. Even so, I imagine whenever I have projects in the future that don’t need me to squeeze every ounce of clock speed I can out of a phone I’ll be turning again to Cordova and its VS 2015 integrations.

And then there’s Angular… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told I need to learn Angular/React/Riot/Backbone/Knockout/Whatever. It’s borderline ridiculous how many frameworks there are that achieve more or less the same thing. Angular’s learning curve is pretty fascinating as well, starting off shallow when you look at the tutorials, and then taking a curve so steep that it feels similar to running into a wall head-first.

Angular calls itself “Superheroic” on their website, which is a pretty vague thing. Does it work? Sure. Does it do so in a way that’s easy to grep? Not at all. You have to learn intricacies of the entire framework in order to do even marginally complex actions for your app. You also need to grapple with incomplete and/or insufficient documentation when trying to learn said intricacies, basically relying on Bing or Google to show you the dark corners of StackOverflow where your answers lie.

I’ll try out Angular and one of the other frameworks for another project or two, just to be sure I’m giving it a fair shot, but thus far my decision to stay away from these libraries is feeling pretty justified.


Conclusion & Reveal

Once again with SlimSocial, I had hoped to make my prototype over the course of a weekend. This estimate was built off of my experience with doing prototype mobile development natively, and thanks to the learning curves of both Cordova and Angular I was about as far from correct as could possibly be (which is the reason I have a personal rule to not learn new technologies for business critical projects).

Adding onto this, there is a problem with distribution. In order for me to properly make this app available to individuals who aren’t interested in testing, I’ll be shelling out some serious dough to Apple and Microsoft (and subjecting myself to the chaos that is the Android build process). I’m not sure how willing I am to do that for SlimSocial. However, when the day comes that I do renew my Apple and Microsoft developer accounts, I’ll probably publish this immediately. Until then, enjoy some screenshots of the app working on my Windows 10 desktop.

home feed
friends profile


– Andy

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C/C++, C#, Development, Game Development, General, Weekend Projects

Weekend Projects Gone Awry, Part 2


The Idea: Outmoded

A friend visited me recently in Boston, and while we were being typical lazy gentlemen, the prospect of developing a game together at this year’s Global Game Jam (GGJ) surfaced. Though lately I’ve found it hard to be interested in anything to do with games or game development, but we agreed we’d like to make something without “graphics” that simply ran in the console. And so it was, that I created a project called “Outmoded.”



The first revision of Outmoded was done over two days while at the Barker Engineering Library in MIT. I chose C# so that I could finish the work in a few hours, and I’d estimate a total effort of about 5 hours was put into the project. The system worked within acceptable constraints and only had problems if you found yourself clearing the entire screen repeatedly for animation effects.

However, as the GGJ drew gloser, Alex asked if it wouldn’t be more performant to build the system in C++. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have an addictive relationship with C++, so ultimately it took very little for him to convince me this was the obviously correct path for the project. I created an experimental branch, scrapped the code, and got to work.

Over a couple work sessions I rewrote everything and had a simplistic proof of concept working on both Windows and certain flavors of Linux/BSD/OSX.


Tech Notes

As it turns out, moving to C++ was potentially a final nail in the coffin for the GGJ collaboration. Though I got to relearn things I hadn’t used in well over a decade (potentially closer to 15 years), makefiles were never a strong suit and OS X appears to have some fascinating ideas on development, which is no surprise to anyone who has used XCode. Also, there was a lot of struggling with Clang as the compiler on Linux, eventually forcing me to revert to g++ in order to get the makefile working.

This was excellent practice for some upcoming cross-platform C++ work I’ll be doing before the summer, and I’ll be very thankful for the rust removal this work provided. There’s a very obvious advantage for using Windows as a development environment, I was much more productive/effective there than on Linux.


Conclusion & Reveal

The GGJ theme, “Ritual”, seemed like a great opportunity to build an interesting yet simple game, but the fatigue of debugging the engine’s production proved too much of a negative for some of the team. Thus we have opted to bury the project and explore other avenues. What does that mean for Outmoded? Not much, frankly. I’ll probably fix the remaining bugs if they aren’t too troublesome and maybe add a frame feature, but I’ve gone well past the amount of time I intended to pour into this trivial thing.


– Andy

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Philosophizer, Question of the Month, Science, Writing

Question of the Month – 2013-11-26 (Archive Repost)

Years ago while working and living in North Carolina, my friends and I attempted to start a series of thought experiments together for tackling purely hypothetical questions. This was the one question we managed to complete, posted in the hopes that we can again try turning this into a monthly occurrence.



“Assuming time is non-linear, what is a better way to notate the age of an entity?”


LS (Liam S), AM (Andrew M), MH (Matt H)



Proposition: give up on measuring time. Time is usually a proxy for experience, or for progression through a known process (like a chemical reaction, or the steady draining of sand through a hourglass). Whenever we forget that, we create rules that end up making very little actual sense. Like the ones that make it illegal to drink alcohol on one day, but perfectly legal a mere 24 hours later (or if you know your exact time of birth, from one minute/second/etc to the next). In fact, time is a truly crappy proxy for deciding how responsibly someone will act in relation to alcohol. It’s a truly crappy proxy for deciding how responsibly a given person will be in relation to just about anything.

Give up on judging things by the proxy of time, and do direct measurements of what you want to know, on the particular case you want to know about. Somebody has been out traveling at very near the speed of light and they have returned? Well, who cares what their clock said or what your clock said. Are they showing signs of being mature enough to engage in whatever your proposed activity is? Did they experience the things they will need in order to react appropriately to a given activity? Note that those two answers might be different for the same person, and the same activity.

Time isn’t just a crappy proxy for human maturity. it’s a crappy proxy for a number of the things we like to think it’s a good proxy for, like the breakdown of unstable nuclei. All you can say about that, is that if nothing unexpected happens, then it will take X time for half the nuclei to decay. But in reality, there are a number of things that can happen to speed or slow the rate of decay from the one expected. So, sure, in a lab’s controlled conditions, you can make assumptions about breakdown given the time, and knowing how much lead shielding you need to keep from giving yourself cancer. But anywhere else, you better not assume anything and instead just measure with your Geiger-counter.


We interpreted the question as asking to devise a scientifically consistent and tangible measure for expressing the duration of a period. Put more simply: what’s another way to measure time without using the made-up construct that is time?

The goal of metrics are to provide understandable and convertible figures by which we can understand things that happen within the universe. Be it how long it has been since an animal has been born, the period which encompasses one object’s passage around another’s in space, or how quickly an object is traveling relative to another distant object. Linear time is, as far as we currently know, not a verifiable substance in the universe. It is an abstract concept we have created to provide common measure when discussing the passage of existence.

There are certainly relative measures you could use for each object. For a human being you could count the number of heart beats they have produced, the number of breaths they have taken, or the amount of steps they have traveled since their birth. Orbiting objects could be measured by both the distance they travel in their orbit and the number of times they have orbited. Finally, determining the speed of an object in space relative to another can be measured in combinations of distance traveled per rotation on the item’s axis.

The problem, though, is that each of these relative measures is fantastic at giving metrics specific to that object, but terrible at translating them into something that is usable for communicating those differences among disparate objects. Just as an example, basing your age off of the number of heart beats fails to communicate to others measuring similarly how different your heart rate is to theirs, how often your heart rate varies based on fitness levels, etc. There are analogous problems with the other measurements for orbiting objects and relative speed. Each measurement on its own is useful but is almost hopeless for making comparisons between even remotely equivalent objects.

Given the above and the circumstance of the question, finding a better way to notate ‘age’ for an object is about finding a common measure for how long the object has existed. In needing it to be common or universal, you are limited to things such as distance and energy. The
system you would create to provide convertible measurements for everything based on something like distance or energy would be extraordinarily complex and likely eventually found to also be just as relative as any other system.

All of that being said, it is important that Liam receive credit for coming the closest to an actual solution with his idea to measure the number of neutrinos that have passed through the object. It is known that the number of collisions experienced with neutrinos is extraordinarily small with known matter, thus making it fairly reliable assuming neutrinos are equally present in all parts of the universe. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s pretty interesting!

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Development, General, JavaScript, PHP, Self, Web Development, Weekend Projects

Weekend Projects Gone Awry, Part 1

Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time at home, which has produced an odd side effect.  It seems the more time I am left alone, the more I get stuck on ideas without real merit.  Generally speaking, these are passing thoughts at best, but sometimes one takes root and seems dedicated to obstructing real productive thought.

In past years, I’ve simply bided my time until the thought eventually passed.  The more recent thoughts, however, don’t seem to be following the pattern.  Whether because of changes in my personal life, or the ongoing process of maturing, I find myself having to invent new methods for clearing my mind.  And so we find ourselves here, dear reader, where I will attempt to quickly bring these concepts to life and subject you to the process.


The Idea: SlimSocial

At heart I am most comfortable playing the role of an introvert.  As such, the world of social networking is irksome to say the least.  Don’t get me wrong, I have met many great friends thanks to the internet, but I also think they talk too much at times.  With that in mind, I’d like to introduce you to “SlimSocial,” my solution to social-overload on the internet.



Instead of allowing everyone to talk so much, I wanted to create a simple network that limited the number of posts someone could make per day.  Initially, I’d envisioned limiting everyone to one post per day, and most of my prototype work has been done with that in mind.  If I were to put more work into the system, it would be more appropriate to generate a system on top of the “likes” and “dislikes” a person accumulates.

Speaking of likes/dislikes, since I’m robbing people of the ability to flood the network with their idle musings, I certainly can’t take away their ability to show support or disdain for their fellow network members.  Still, I couldn’t quite re-use the terminology of sites like Facebook, Reddit, etc.  I spent a while racking my brain on what to call this feature, and eventually got a helping hand from Jordan.  He took the “Slim” in the title a bit more anatomically, and suggested the system use weight loss or gain to represent likes and dislikes, respectively.  Imagining the confusion this could cause, I quickly jumped on the idea and the chance to further solidify the network’s uselessness.


Tech Notes

There aren’t really any interesting tech notes for this project, except to say that there aren’t any interesting tech notes.  What I mean by that is that I decided to forego utilizing any frameworks outside of jQuery and Boostrap on the UI.  This was the first PHP project I’ve done in years without my framework (N2F) save for a game to keep tallies of annoying phrases on phone calls I did for a friend over the course of 2 hours.  The whole experience was…enlightening.  I can now say I know what parts of my framework are the crucial ones that really do save me lots of work.  Beyond that, I might say I got to practice a little more with build/release automation in TeamCity, but that was less a goal for the project than it was a result of my server outage.


Conclusion & Reveal

I had hoped to make the prototype for this project over the course of a weekend.  The mockup took about an hour after I found a template, but the remainder of the work was broken up due to said server outage, the holidays, and of course my day job.  I’d estimate I spent 4 full days of work (32 hours) on the project to get it to where it sits today.  The prototype is essentially complete, and though there is obviously more work to do, it is time to move on…or so I hope.


– Andy

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