husband, dad, steelers fan and software engineer

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I recently decided to signup for Pley, a service that supplies lego sets by mail for a monthly membership price.  They advertise that you're safe to lose a piece or two and that the kits are always sanitary using their special FDA grade process.  Unfortunately I found both of these claims to be false.

First off let's set the record straight, I'm an adult Lego geek. That's a technical term, you can check me on it. As a kid I had a vast array of sets and spent countless hours constructing my dreams. Then I went to High School, College and got married and had mostly forgotten about Legos.  Until I took a job where I was working on the hosting infrastructure used by the Official Lego Podcasts, like this one.  Suddenly I had an excuse to play with Legos again, it was work related after all...

I've collected a few sets as an adult, and I fully admit to playing with them from time to time.  I'm not ashamed. When I saw Pley I thought it could be the perfect life-as-a-service for my late night hobby.

I went through the trial and the first set I got was a total bust. The Desert Skiff came in the mail and I started piecing it together.  Normally I try to avoid the directions as much as possible, as that adds to the general fun of the puzzle.  But on this one though I had to pull out the book. This probably sounds a little crazy since it's only a 213 piece set, but hear me out. As it turns out the set was missing pieces, to the tune of at least 10! I finally couldn't finish the set because there were so many missing. I logged online an reported the missing pieces and sent the set back in.  I admit that out of frustration I didn't pull everything apart. I hadn't heard back from Pley until this week when they sent this email to me.

Hi Stan,

We hope you are enjoying Pley. We have received your set today. Thank you!

To keep kids happy, we ask all users to disassemble the sets to individual pieces so that each child has the same building experience with no sets arriving partially built.

Here is a note we received from on of our Pleyers:

Tal's letter:can you separate piece

We appreciate you taking a few extra minutes to separate each piece so that other children can enjoy the set equally.

Thanks for Pleying!

The Pley Team

I'm a little more than flabbergasted. I didn't get any replies when I filed a missing-part list! On their website they say, "Lost a piece? No worries. We won't charge." What they don't say is, "The next guy might be out of luck though!" Furthermore, if their process is so clean how did this kid Tal get the set still stuck together? How do they know I didn't stick a booger between those blocks?  And really what are they doing sending this kid's letter to me? Surely this is some kind of privacy violation!

The thing I really miscalculated though was thinking that renting one set at a time would somehow pacify my burning desire as a Lego-master to mix and match multiple sets. There simply is nothing better than owning your sets, period.

Unfortunately I just can't recommend this service.  Yeah, it's partially out of bitterness, but I also feel like I've been lied to. So keep buying on Amazon, or Target or wherever it is you get your Lego-fix and steer clear of Pley!

jGrowl 1.3 & 1.4

by Stan Lemon

About a week ago I released v1.3 of jGrowl. This is for all intents and purposes a maintenance release, containing primarily packing info for npm and bower, as well as a Grunt config for future development. More importantly is that the 'develop' branch is underway and this contains some significant changes to the plugin.

The 1.4 release intends to address the following things:

  • LESS for CSS
  • Remove IE6 support
  • Easily use bootstrap and include examples

These things are currently available for testing, simply pull 'develop' and give it a spin.

Additionally I am very happy to share that the jGrowl package on Bower now points at the correct repository, meaning you can easily add jGrowl to your project using this excellent package manager.

Lastly, while most of the development on 1.4 is complete I am hoping at some point to work on automating some tests of the plugin. If you have experience doing this with jQuery plugins I would welcome advice, insight or better yet - pull requests.  If you have any feedback on either 1.3 or 1.4 please don't hesitate to drop me a line.

I'm pretty excited about a contribution I recently made to Aura.Sql.  For those not familiar with Aura, it's the brain child of Paul M Jones (a decent dude despite his hate for design patterns starting with the letter F) and strives to be a set of standalone components with no outside dependencies and 100% test coverage. Aura.Sql v2 is also known as ExtendedPdo, and it's a drop in replacement for PDO.  The idea is it gives you some extra giddy up in your database tooling, via lazy connections, short hand helpers and a basic profiler. I've found this especially helpful on a couple of projects where I have a bunch of technical debt and an antiquated ORM.  The problem is database connections are expensive and opening up a new one via ExtendedPdo is not always feasible.  My contribution to this project was the ability to decorate or wrap an existing PDO instance so that you could pull the raw connection from another system and use it without reconnecting to the database.  This is an idea I got from Doctrine 2, which offers similar support by passing in an existing instance object.  This is a particularly handy feature when refactoring a legacy code base.

If you're getting off the ORM band wagon, or dealing with some poorly performing legacy code you're trying to refactor take a look at Aura.Sql, it's right tool for the job.


Symfony & Absolute Paths

by Stan Lemon

My love affair with Symfony 2 has hit a rocky spot. I have an atomic deployment system for a Symfony 2 app that I've been working on.  Basically it works like this... The app gets built on my CI server, Bamboo. That build results in an artifact, a tarball of the entire application.  This tarball is intended to represent the final product, meaning tests have all been run - they passed - and any compilation steps have been executed.  But I've got a problem.  It comes when I try to warm the cache or more generally if I run any Symfony console command on the build system before the artifact is made. This includes things like installing Assetic dependencies.  To work around my problem I've been making sure my 'cache' folder is empty before I build the tarball.  I wind up crossing my fingers on the deploy step and trusting that things will work themselves out when the cache is warmed and the container is compiled on the application server.  This is a horrible solute.  It's one I'm forced to deal with because of the way Symfony 2 dumps it's dependency injection container.  The container dump compiles references to %kernel.root_dir% which is an absolute path to the application root. That path is different on my CI server than it is on my production application server. If I compile the container on the CI server I wind up with a dump file that has the wrong absolute paths, resulting in a non-function app.

Some may want to question not doing the build on the application server if this is a problem. That may work for some people, but I think it's wrong to assume it's going to be possible in every deployment scenario.  There are simply a lot of regulated industries where building on the application server simply is not going to pass an audit. In my experience both in the PCI and Hippa worlds this simply wouldn't have worked.  You may disagree, but the reality is when you get into sorts of regulated environments you are playing by someone else's rules, even if they're silly rules. Furthermore, this solution does not scale.  It works for small clusters, but there's a point at which it simply is too long to roll that sort of deployment process out across a datacenter.  I've spent a fair amount of time solving software problems in these sort of regulated environments, so now I am admittedly wired to consider such things even when they're not being mandated by a regulatory body.  My build system involves Bamboo and Ansible.  Out of this system a singular artifact of the application is produced for deployment. It's a clean system and I can pull the artifact down from the CI server at any point and work with the exact distribution that will hit my application server at any time. Well, identical so long as the cache is not built. Here lies my beef with the way Symfony works.

As I mentioned, this has been a bit of a pain with Assetic.  Until recently I was able to avoid it for the most part. Assetic can be a great tool, especially during development, but much of it can be circumvented with more front end centric tools like Grunt. Recently though I started playing around with the SpBowerBundle to manage front end assets and hit this problem again.  In principle I really like what SpBowerBundle brings to the table.  It's an awesome union of front end and back end dependency management into a nice clean integrated system.  However, this time I just couldn't make it work.  This is no fault of the Bundle's, as I eluded to earlier, I consider this a flaw in the way the container is compiled.

In general I am a huge fan of Symfony 2. I love the design and architecture of the system, and the flexibility to build a truly componetized app is unique in the PHP-stratosphere right now. This doesn't seem to me like it should be an issue, yet it is. It also seems to me like more people should be wrestling with this, but I'm not finding the blog articles on it or any workarounds for that matter.  Truthfully I suspect the problem could be resolved by delegating the string replacement of %kernel.root_dir% to a method call, like getRootDir() which could then return the magic constant __DIR__ and we could use absolutely paths without having to hardcode them.

SwS: The Basics

by Stan Lemon

Do you want to get started shaving with a double edge razor? Mark and I cover The Basics on Shave with Swagger.