Tips (25)

Using Pinch Media Analytics in PhoneGap

Getting close to finishing up an app for a client in the coming weeks, my business partner and I decided it would be a good idea to include some analytics code so we could track how people are using our application. We ended up using Pinch Media’s Analytics to do our tracking. It came down to this: their code is REALLY easy to implement, and they provide us with just enough information to satisfy our curiosity. I think one of the biggest draws is that it records information regardless of the user’s online status – meaning offline app usage information is stored to a small database and then uploaded once the user reconnects. Had we used a web-based solution, which would have been natural given the nature of PhoneGap (the underpinning of our application) being UIWebView, we would have missed out on some details without considerable work-arounds to cache data as Pinch Analytics does.

Because PhoneGap is essentially a single view application that displays web pages, you are a bit limited with the extent that you can integrate Pinch Analytics out of the box… unless you use javascript callbacks to Objective-C within PhoneGap. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that you just need to follow Pinch’s instructions and you will have analytics data reported back to you within a few hours.

Moving forward, I’m likely to investigate some of the finer points of creating my own PhoneGap callback functions so I can embed Pinch Analytics Beacon methods, which are nice little ways to record information about discreet actions taken within your app – recording leader board views, for example.

PhoneGap Up To Speed

I recently ran across some major performance problems with a jQTouch app running in PhoneGap. Some of the symptoms included long pauses on touch events, non-responsiveness, and laggy transitions.

Brian LeRoux (Nitobi/PhoneGap), Jesse McFayden (Nitobi/PhoneGap), and David Kaneda (jQTouch) were the stars looking into this issue. Ends up Jesse found where the Accelerometer was taking a 40Hz sample rate and sending the data to a callback. The solution is to just disable Accelerometer use – either in the plist or, as I did, comment-out all the accelerometer bits. Likewise, I removed location functionality, as this app in particular doesn’t need it.

You can read Jesse McFayden’s post here. And if you’ll excuse me, I have an app to finish…

ReadOnly Form Elements

Here’s a quick note for the frustrated:
When setting the readonly parameter on a form element via javascript, make sure you use a capital “O” as follows:
elem = document.getElementById('myInputElement');
elem.readOnly = true;

Why it took me so long to find that out, I have no idea why. Most forums threads by others seem to think the disabled parameter is the best way to go. Actually, the sheer number of people suggesting that makes me think it’s a bad idea – just following the crowd. This is why readOnly might be the right option: You’re still allowed to post the form value, but the user isn’t able to change what’s inside the box. When using disabled *nothing* gets posted from that element. So if all you want to do is prevent a user from editing the value of a form element, use readOnly. If you don’t want that value posted, then go ahead and use disabled.


Backups to Amazon S3 the Easy Way

I was looking for a simple solution to backup my newly constructed server to an off-site location in case something were to happen. I don’t mean I lost a file… more like catastrophic hardware failure, fire, water damage, physical damage, and even theft!. Local backups really are best, and I don’t plan on abandoning them any time soon, but in the case of the one in a million chance where something like this occurs, there’s a high likelihood that everything might be lost.

Enter How to: Incremental Daily Backups Using Aamazon S3 Duplicity. It really is pretty easy. Just one thing: besides installing Duplicity (also required a few other dependencies), I had to install Python-boto: yum install python-boto

You may also be interested in doing regular backups of your MySQL database (from

Adding the Fedora Install DVD to Your Yum Repo List

I recently performed a major upgrade on my file server this week. It was a lot harder than it should have been, but that’s only because my Linux Foo can only go this far. Two to three re-installs later on the new hardware it was getting old, so I told the Fedora installer to just do the base package and I would worry about the rest later.

Worry is not my middle name, but frustration might be. For reasons unknown to me I thought I could just do an “upgrade” from the installer. Wrong. Then I thought maybe I could boot normally, insert the DVD, and I could then select it as a package source. Wrong. Download all those packages I missed the first time around isn’t an option on slower-than-molasses connection I have at home. So I did what any other self-respecting nerd would do – turn to Google.

The trick lies in the Yum Repos list, located in /etc/yum.repos.d/fedora.repo

Check it out. Normally you have three entries: Fedora, a Debug branch, and a Sources branch. The primary Fedora branch configs look something like this (I’m using Fedora 10 in my example) :

name=Fedora $releasever - $basearch

Our job is to copy and modify it so Yum and the GUI app manager can use the DVD. First you need to copy the block of code pertaining to [fedora] and paste the copy into your file – after [fedora] is fine.

  1. Change the line [fedora] to [fedora-dvd]
  2. change the name line to name=Fedora 10 x86_64 - DVD
  3. change the baseurl line to baseurl=file:///media/Fedora%2010%20x86_64%20DVD (the path to your DVD might be different – check it first)
  4. delete the mirrorlist line
  5. make sure the enabled line is enabled=1 (you can turn it off later through the “Software Sources” app)
  6. Save and exit

Use Yum or the Application manager to install. Rather than taxking your network and your patience you’ll see the DVD activity light busily blinking as you begin installing packages. One tip you might need to keep in mind is that refresh packages button on the package manager. There were a few packages I tried installing that were no longer available when I turned-off the net-based repo source. This is equivalent to yum clean [option]

Happy installing!

Nasty WordPress Worms

I just ran across a nasty worm in one of my WordPress blogs (not the most current install). Not only did it overwrite a ton of files, inserting spam links and malware into the pages, but it was sneaky enough to go into my wp-admin/.svn/prop-base/ directory and re-write those files as well. It’s fairly ingenious from the hacker standpoint. Most people like me will rely on the svn revert file.php to send the file back to its original version. That won’t work if the .svn/prop-base files are altered because svn will see that they are the same – it doesn’t bother actually checking the repo, so you’re stuck with infected files.

I solved my problem by deleting the wp-admin directory and doing an svn-up on its parent. That forces SVN to say “hey – that directory is missing. I should pull it down from the repository.” Problem solved (for now).

And I am now running the most current version of WordPress, so hopefully I’m free of risk and infection from here on out.

Fixing a Broken TimeMachine Backup

I had the unfortunate event of having to send my MacBook Pro into Apple for some repairs. The machine came back working fine, however there was something odd going on with TimeMachine – it wanted to do a full backup of my disk. Odd, considering I keep it plugged-in all the time when I’m at my office desk. I tried re-selecting the disk, but that didn’t work. Clearly this would require some detective sleuthing on my part.

There are a couple points you need to know.

* First of all, check the Apple Support forums. They have some good information on there, but most of it is pretty basic. Start there then move on if you haven’t quickly solved your problem.

* Time Machine disks know your computer by the MAC address. This was the root of my problem – it seems my mac address had changed (new logic board?).

* I eventually found my solution at, however I had to do a little more work to actually get everything working. See below.

What made this a step more difficult was that the MacOSXHints solution didn’t quite work, however one reader commented on a unique situation that resembled mine. in the /Volumes/TimeMachine/Backups.backupdb directory there were MyComputerName and “MyComputerName 2” directories. The former had all my backups in there, the latter didn’t have any completed backups and showed a file creation time of today, not the last time I ran a backup. So with the ACL turned off (see the directions) I removed the “MyMachineName 2” directory (mind you – I had already completed all the steps on before trying this. It might be important). It worked.

YMMV but hopefully this will work for you.

HABTM Unit Testing in CakePHP

I use this blog quite a bit for documenting little quirks, bugs, work-arounds, neat things, and tutorials so that I know where I can find the solution in the future. At the same time, you benefit by hopefully not having to go through some of the same messes I did just to get to this point.

I love CakePHP so far (but still quite the noob), but my biggest gripe is the documentation. The basics are there, but there’s often too little documentation to get the novice going. From the Bakery docs, it’s not exactly clear how to perform tests on models when HABTM (has and belongs to many) relationships are involved. Have no fear, it’s doable (though not straightforward).

Hopefully you baked your MVC pieces and included test scripts to go along with them. If not, do that first. The key part to getting the tests for models that have HABTM relationships is to set-up a fixture representing the table that stores the relationship. Don’t actually set-up the test – just the fixture.

Unchecked checkbox values

Working with form check boxes can be a bit of a pain on sites with dynamic content. Saving the checked data is easy, but how do you easily save the unchecked value without manually adding it to an array from inside your code? Keep reading.

revealCMS is working great – I’m really starting to see a lot of its strengths (and, admittedly, some weaknesses) as I use it more and begin extending it. Due to how data is saved to the database, the HTML checkboxes were a bit of a problem when trying to save their unchecked state. Typically I save the post data to the object, where it is filtered and scrubbed, as necessary.Only the posted values get updated in their respective rows (makes sense, right?).

The problem is that unless a box is checked, it’s not going to be sent with the form – a problem if you have a checked box, but want to save the unchecked state.The first option is easy and probably the first solution you’d think of – write a couple lines of code for every single checkbox and set it to some default value if it’s left unchecked when the form is posted. Fine, but that takes more thinking than I want to do for something so simple, and it’s somewhat prone to error. Instead…

…the solution: Insert a hidden form field with the same name as the checkbox and the default value right before the place where the checkbox is located:
<input type="hidden" name="box1" value="0" /> <input type="checkbox" name="box1" value="1" />
What happens here is that when the checkbox is left unchecked, the hidden field’s value gets submitted, as-is. When the check box is checked, the hidden field’s POST value gets overwritten by the activated checkbox’s.
Unactivated: Hidden field’s value.
Activated: Check box’s value.

Told you it was easy!

SMARTY: Assigning variables to the header from the body

The problem recently presented itself to me when writing some new functionality for revealCMS: I needed to set some variables to load in the page head, but could only be set after a portion of the body had completed rendering. I wrote a plugin that essentially loads a different stylesheet depending on the input of the Smarty template function. The hard part wasn’t assigning the variable – it was figuring out the best way to get that assigned data to appear in a part of a page that had already been rendered – the head.

It makes sense why Smarty would work this way – that you can’t go back and re-assign variables. It would be too messy. So somehow you need to assign the variable first in the body, then go back and render the head. It’s simple… really. Believe it.

But why bother? Why not put <style> tags directly into the page body where the plugin is located? The reason is simple: <style> tags (and <script> tags, for that matter) MUST be in the page header. It’s a web standards thing.

First, break-up your page templates into two sections: the header (containing everything before the <body> section of your template), and the body, which contains the <body> section. First render the body using
$body = $smarty->fetch('body.tpl');
At this point, I’ll just assume that your page functions have loaded and you’ve either placed an {assign} tag somewhere in the template, or you’ve used a $smarty->assign() inside the template function. If you’re not familiar with $smarty->fetch(), it’s just like $smarty->display(), except it outputs the contents to a variable rather than the screen. And just like display() it can also take $compile_id and $cache_id as optional parameters.

Now render the head:

$head = $smarty->fetch('header.tpl');
By this point everything should work-out as we expect it. Our dynamically loaded css file is loaded in the head and our standards friends are happy. The beauty about this example is that you can now render a number of items in any order you need them then display properly, so long as it makes logical sense.

Here’s a tip: You can use this method to dynamically load javascript files and frameworks if your fancy web 2.0 page functions/plugins need it at some times, but not at others.