PHP course

Earlier this week I attended a course run by Netskills, entitled PHP: Primed and Ready. I had never used PHP before – I have been happy enough with ASP for creating web applications up to now. However, a colleague is using PHP, and I wanted to be able to support her, and this course came along at the right time. I also thought it would be a good idea to get some kind of training in programming, as I’ve never had any before.

The course was a mixture of presentation, and hands on exercises, which I thought was quite a good way of doing it. However the time given for the exercises was quite long considering the content of some of the exercises (some of which just involved opening a file, saving it onto the test server, and opening it again in a browser!), and I did find myself getting a little bored waiting for the next bit to start.

It was interesting to see the differences between PHP and ASP, and to see where PHP has built in functions for things I spent time creating from scratch in ASP. I am probably going to stick with ASP (or maybe move onto ASP.NET), over PHP, though I can see its advantages, and will keep it in mind for future projects. One thing I particularly liked was the Heredoc syntax for multi-line output of text, and the ability to dynamically generate graphics (which I believe you can do in ASP, but I have never investigated).

Overall, I thought the course was a bit basic for my needs. It covered programming concepts such as loops, conditionals etc, which I felt was done a little quickly for people who hadn’t come across them before, but was a bit boring for those of us already quite familiar with them. A lot of time was spent covering the basics, and much less on the more interesting bits, like manipulating databases. It was nice, though, to find out that I  do know what I’m doing when it comes to this sort of thing, and I did learn how to write PHP, so the course was a success. I feel that it has given me more confidence in my own skills.

Startpages and suchlike

A couple of years ago I created myself a startpage. It is pretty much just a list of subject links which open a list of links in a frame, nothing fancy, no widgets or anything (I suppose it is more like a bookmarks page, but I thought of it as a start page). I’ve since got myself a nice iGoogle homepage, and have been exploring some of the other options out there…

Feedraider is not exactly a startpage, but an rss reader on a webpage. It is very simple, in a good way. I really like it. You can view your feeds as a Deck (where the feeds are displayed by source. This also displays any cartoon/image posts in full), or as a River (which, as well as sounding quite nice, handily sorts the feeds by time of last updating (in largish increments – 30 mins, 60mins, 2 hrs etc).
The only problem is that when I uploaded my (admittedly rather large) list of blogs, it took a very long time to download them all, as it just displays the last x number of posts, rather than new/unread ones – though it will mark posts as read, this just displays them in a different colour, rather than removing them.
Anyway, not something I plan to use, but it does look lovely.

Funky Homepage is a slightly different start page, in that it is pretty well limited to one computer, as it works by cookies. You can select a colour scheme (including purple, so that’s me happy), and choose between narrow, standard and widescreen formats. There is a clock in the top left corner, from Labpixies, which you can change the look of using skins. It has 4 tabs – start, news, fun stuff and tools, and promises a future shopping tab. It claims to be “god-damn funky” but I remain unconvinced. It is not especially useful, limited as it is to the computer you set it up on, and it is not as nice to use as the some of the other start pages I have looked at.

iGoogle is obviously slightly different in the world of start pages. It is, for me at least, a nice bolt-on around the search engine. I go to my iGoogle page usually to do a search. The rest of the stuff around it is a nice distraction – if something catches my eye, I’ll take a look. My computer logged me out of iGoogle last week, and I only logged back in today – so I clearly didn’t miss the personalised stuff that much. Anyway, it is easy to use – just select gadgets from those available, create your own etc etc. There’s far too much to say about it really.

MyGetGo is customisable – you can select a theme for your page, with different colour schemes etc. You can have multiple pages. It has a number of different modules: bookmarks (in text or button format), pictures, news/rss, search engine, and a notepad, and more are planned for the future. The pictures module allows you to upload your own photos, and then send them as e-cards. It is easy to change the layout of your page by drag and drop. You can keep the page private, or make it publicly available.

Netvibes is not as pretty as the Your Minis startpage – though again it is easy to add content by drag and drop. You can edit the gadgets/widgets (whatever) but you can’t change the colour, or overlap, and it is actually a little fiddly to move things around. You can create new tabs though, and choose icons for the tabs. You can also change the theme of your pages, and add wallpapers and things. The slightly strange idea is that you have two pages – a private one, and a public one within your ‘Netvibes Universe’ so you can share stuff, and keep other stuff hidden.

Pageflakes allows you to set up a page, and add ‘flakes’ to it. Flakes are basically the gadget/widget/containers. There are a large selection of flakes to choose from, and you can arrange them on screen using drag and drop. It is very easy to make changes to, add, or delete flakes. You can have multiple pages, give them names, change the layout, colour etc. You can also share pages with friends, or make the page public (share it with everyone). Also has a ‘blog flake’ so you can publish your own blog.

Protopage is another very easy to use startpage. You click to add new widgets, drag them around the page, edit them etc. You can change the colour scheme (though it caused it to freeze up when I tried this), and if you turn gravity off (I love this idea), you can position your widgets more freely, so they overlap. You can have a clock, to-do list, photos etc from the main list of widgets, or add your own rss feeds etc. It has multiple pages/tabs, and you can add your own new ones. Plus, it has a cute dog (Protopuppy) you can play with – what more do you need?

Your Minis is a place to find widgets to add to your blog/webpage/startpage etc. There are loads of different widgets available, arranged in categories. It also has its own startpage, which is very easy to use – just drag and drop, and you can arrange/rearrange items, overlap things, and new tabs.

Others include: Eskobo, WebWag, It’s a Start and more…
This is not an exhaustive list, because, quite frankly, I was getting exhausted trying them all out. I’ve found a couple of contenders that I will try out a bit more, but for the meantime I’m pretty much going to stick with iGoogle and my old home-made page.

Read/Write Web has a number of articles on start pages which are worth a read.

Lyrics

I work in a law library, and none of the lawyers have ever asked me for song lyrics (boring lot!). But I do look them up from time to time purely for my own interests (and sanity), so I was interested to see that Yahoo had set up a search engine. My usual method was just to put the song title along with the word ‘lyrics’ (or the lyrics I knew) into Google and see what I got.
I’ve had a look at Yahoo Music Lyrics and it is pretty good. As Phil Bradley points out you can’t copy and paste the lyrics, which is a bit annoying. More annoying is the fact that they sometimes asterisk out swearing (and sometimes not), or in the case of Cake’s version of I Will Survive, put in the wrong lyric. So the lyrics are not completely accurate. There are also a few problems with song titles being misspelt, and multiple entries for the same song, and it is not comprehensive – for example, while it lists the album ‘Achtung Bono’ by Half Man Half Biscuit, it doesn’t provide the lyrics for any of the songs, while Kirsty MacColl, Cake and many others only have a fraction of their songs’ lyrics available.
The Guardian has an article that claims this will “drown fans’ fuzzy song lines” – but I think this was just an excuse to print some misheard lyrics!

And if the song you want isn’t on Yahoo (and there’s every chance it isn’t), there are still plenty of other lyric sites out there:
A-Z Lyrics Universe – Search by artist or title only. Not very comprehensive.
Get Lyrical – again, not very comprehensive, but you can search by artist, song, album or lyric.
LyricWiki – includes a ‘parody’ genre which seems to be entirely full of Weird Al Yankovic songs. Search by artist or title only.
Metro Lyrics – Search by artist or title or by lyrics. No asterisks.

I’m sure there are lots more.

Government RSS Feeds

There’s been some criticism recently on government feeds, and their non-existence or the difficulty of finding those that do exist.

I was subscribed to a few feeds – those which were easy to find – such as the OPSI legislation ones, and the DCA. But after reading the discussions, and noticing a few new feeds (and many thanks to lo fi librarian for pointing out the parliament feeds, though I still can’t get them to work properly), I thought it would be useful to have a list of all the feeds available from the government/parliament. I couldn’t find one. I wound up searching google- which as you can imagine brought back a whole heap of feeds I didn’t need (like lots of local councils – though it’s good to see how many of them have feeds!). But I weeded through it a bit, and created a list of feeds to add to my feedreader.

If anyone knows of any that I have missed, please let me know! (There is a list of ones that I have checked but could not find at the bottom of this post).

Here is the list:
Audit Commission – press releases, latest reports
Child Support Agency
Commission for Rural Communities, News, Publications, Blog
Competition Commission
Department for Communities and Local Government
Department for Constitutional Affairs
Department for Culture, Media & Sport, FOI requests, Creative Economy Programme
Department for Education and Skills, FOI requests, Speeches, Hot Topics
Department for Work and Pensions- pensions reform, pensions reform comments, welfare reform and child poverty
Food Standards Agency
Greater London Authority – a list of feeds
Health and Safety Executive – a list of feeds
Highways Agency – list of feeds
HM Treasury
Home Office – (on the home office press website)
House of Commons Debates via They Work for You
House of Lords Debates via They Work for You
Idea
Information Commissioner’s Office – Decision Notices, Press Releases
info4local – list of feeds
IT Safe
Local Government Association
Maritime and Coastguard Agency – press releases, Marine Notices
Ministry of Defence- top stories, stories, last 7 days
National Archives podcasts
National Office of Statistics
Number 10:
Ofcom –News, consultations
Office of Fair Trading: Press Releases, Mergers
Pensions regulator
TfL –Press Releases, traffic alerts
TSO Official Documents
Westminster Hall via They Work for You –
Written Ministerial Statements via They Work for You
Youth Justice Board – News, What’s New

OPSI:
UK Acts of Parliament
UK Statutory Instruments
Scotland Acts
Scotland SIs
NI Acts
NI SRs
NI Orders in Council

Scotland:
Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
Index of Rolls of the Court of Session and High Court of Justiciary
Scottish Executive News Online
Scottish Executive News by subject index page

Wales:
Welsh Assembly latest news and events

And here is the list of departments for which I could not find any feeds:
Cabinet Office
Deputy Prime Minister
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
Department of Health
Department for International DevelopmentLaw Officers’ DepartmentLeader of the House of Commons
Northern Ireland Office
Privy Council Office
Scotland Office
Department of Trade and Industry
Department for Transport
Wales Office