Form Tools site rewrite

Posted on Feb 8, 2017 in Blog, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 2 comments

Almost there…! I’ve been posting regular updates on the Form Tools twitter account, but the new site is almost ready for prime time. You can find the staging environment here:
https://next.formtools.org

Finding time to finish it off is the tricky part. If I could drop everything, I’d say it’s only 2 or 3 days away, but since I have a day job (and a helluva commute) it’ll probably be 2 or 3 weeks. Doesn’t help that our car died, so a lot of time is going into finding a replacement. But… coming soon!

Man, can’t wait for this to be done so I can return to the actual script itself.

EDIT: the new site has been released. Few issues here and there, but on the whole it’s been pretty successful. Form Tools 3 is now coming along. :)

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birdsearch.org 2.0.5

Posted on Nov 26, 2016 in Birding, birdsearch.org, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 3 comments

Alrighty! I just released another small update to birdsearch.org, the latest of a series of bug fix releases. I believe this release now fixes all the significant errors, so I’m going to be putting the site largely aside for a bit. The next task for that site is to add mobile support – something badly needed! But first I want to return to Form Tools for a little while.

btw, I’m off to Mexico for a week so sorry if I don’t respond promptly to anyone.

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Taking stock

Posted on Nov 14, 2016 in Blog, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 2 comments

Now that birdsearch.org is out the door and looking more solid by the day (maybe a week or two’s worth of bug fixes left, I think), I’ve tentatively pulled back the veil on Form Tools once again. Form Tools is a script I created well over 10 years ago, which grew and grew into something of a monster. But a good monster. Sure it lives under the stairs, drools a lot, and is pretty terrifying when you first meet it, but really it’s pretty great at heart. Honest.

Since departing the project a few years back, I’ve made two or three aborted attempts to return to the script. Question is: how? It’s so massive, each time I do, I get overwhelmed with the sheer volume of work required, something life-related comes up and I end up having to back off. But the bottom line is I think it’s a great script and well worth updating.

So anyway, I’m trying to come to terms with exactly how I can return it  - how I can split it up into smaller pieces to tame this creature. Let’s see how this goes.

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Form Tools update. Or lack thereof.

Posted on May 13, 2015 in Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 12 comments

Feelin’ mighty discouraged, here.

A year ago this month I got back control of Form Tools and was extremely excited to return to work on it… and then something came up, and I had to put it off for a month or two. So then I returned to it, and something else came up. Wash and repeat.

Cut to one year later. What do we have to show for it? Well, the documentation has been ported out of a custom database and into github where (eventually) anyone can edit it – admittedly, that was a huge task – and I’m still working on the website re-write. But really that’s it. The old site is still just sitting there; I’m not helping out in the forums, and basically the whole script has gotten sadly out of date.

The problem is time, not motivation. In the two years that I took off from Form Tools I started numerous other projects include d3pie, grunt-search, country-region-selector, and I re-wrote my popular generatedata.com script. All of these, plus many others, take time to support. When bugs are found I have to fix them – and even finding time for that is difficult.

I absolutely don’t want to give up on the project, I’m just at a loss about how to proceed. July 1st my wife and I are moving to Bowen Island where we’ve bought a house. Initially that’s going to mean even less time while we get the house shipshape.

The goal with Form Tools was – and still is – to get it to a state where people are able to contribute so it can hum along on its own steam. But in order to do that, I need to do work myself – the website, considering the functionality it offers, has to be closed source.

Anyway, </vent>. Sorry the project seems to be stuck in limbo.

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Form Tools Documentation

Posted on Aug 5, 2014 in Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 0 comments

The last couple of weeks I’ve been working on the formtools.org website rewrite. Sheesh, what a job! Huge bloody site – enough work to keep me busy for months.

First stop has been the documentation. As it stands today the Form Tools documentation is in a closed, custom MySQL DB that I wrote many years ago. It felt like a good idea at the time, but today I had something very different in mind. The new documentation is now generated by Jekyll, and fully editable by anyone via github. You can see a sneak peak here:  http://formtools.github.io/docs/

Because the documentation will be static it’ll load a lot faster, plus it’s also downloadable for offline use. I’ll be adding in searching and tagging soon, as well as porting over the remaining sections.

Ultimate the documentation will be moved to docs.formtools.org once the new website is ready.

There’s a huge amount still to do, but you can see the general directions it’s heading. And if you spot any broken links, typos or anything else, just click the “EDIT PAGE” button!

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nginx and d3pie

Posted on Jun 22, 2014 in d3pie, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 0 comments

In anticipation of moving formtools.org over to a new host, I’m trying out Digital Ocean with one of my smaller scripts: d3pie.org.

This morning I set up a “droplet” (virtual server) and configured it with node and nginx. In theory, it should run a lot faster for d3pie.org, which is completely client-side and can thus benefit from nginx more than Apache. I *am* running it on a VS with very low memory (512MB) so I guess we’ll see how it goes. This is very much an experiment.

I’ve just updated the DNS so now we play the waiting game. What could go wrong, right?

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Back to Form Tools!

Posted on Jun 2, 2014 in Blog, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 1 comment

I posted this on formtools.org, but thought a second post here was in order. A good day. :)

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As of today, I’m returning to work on Form Tools. Woo! Exciting day! In case you’ve no idea who I am, I’m not surprised – I’ve been a bit of an absentee landlord the last couple of years. My name’s Ben Keen, I’m the lead developer. I was the guy that created Form Tools 10 years ago this summer (whoah!).

Maybe I should start with a little history.

Some history

Three years ago, thanks to my business partner Joseph Lo and a grant from the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) I was able to quit my job and work full time on Form Tools, working to commercialize the script and make it into a viable business. This gave me time to work on such features as the premium Form Builder and Data Visualization modules – both of which have greatly enriched the project. A big thanks to everyone who’s purchased them!

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Back at Central1!

Posted on May 20, 2012 in Form Tools | 0 comments

And so ends the year of working on Form Tools!

Last Monday I returned to my previous job as a web developer at Central1 Credit Union. It’s really great to be back – awesome to see everyone again – and great timing too: they’re in the midst of developing of a large scale JS framework, which is going to comprise the bulk of my time over the coming months. After a few days of staring blankly at code and gulping pots of coffee I now have a fairly decent understanding of the architecture. I love the underlying pub/sub pattern being used for module communication and I fully intend to use it in some of my own projects.

But where does all this leave Form Tools? That’s the question I’ve been puzzling over for the last few months.

I’m going to be taking a step back from the project for the next couple of years. I very much hope to return to it (and I’ll never be completely absent) but I need a break. Speaking candidly, the whole idea of charging for certain components never sat well with me. Call me a hippie, call me a commie, but I’m simply not interested in charging for my work. Form Tools was a hobby and converting it into a business made sense at the time, but now that it’s “out there” I found my interest waning more and more. It very much became a job. So now I’m back at full time work, I’m going to be focusing my spare time on other projects, starting with my generatedata.com revamp, which you can find on github here.

But there are other reasons for this decision. Form Tools isn’t exactly cutting edge and I’ve been feeling more and more it’s been keeping me back these last couple of years. Beyond re-architecting the script once or twice, re-thinking the UI, and the fun problems that that raised, the vast bulk of the work has simply adding functionality. Technologically-speaking, it’s pretty hum-drum and I found myself getting more and more anxious to branch out into new territory.

Plus, I may be a PHP developer but… I’m a self-hating one. I kind of hate PHP! :-) It’s terrific for smaller scripts – I mean, unequivocally good – but for anything larger… yikes! As Tchaikovsky once said of his own music “my seams always show”. I’ve been converting generatedata.com over to object oriented and holy cow, do PHP’s seams ever show. It’s a functional language with OO hideously grafted upon it. And it’s only getting worse over time (have you checked out namespaces? What the hell…?!). When I was just working with other OO libraries I didn’t mind it so much, but now I’m developing in it I find myself saying urrrrgh a lot. Definitely time to branch out.

Anyway, I *do* plan on returning to Form Tools, but not for some time. I want to check out Python, Ruby and Node; I want to finish the generatedata.com revamp; I want to completely revise this site with a responsive layout and a different backend. And when I do return to FT, there’s gonna be a whole lotta changes.

- @vancouverben

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PHP Smarty Template mode for CodeMirror 2

Posted on Mar 12, 2012 in Code, Form Tools, JavaScript, Open Source Projects | 2 comments

A Smarty syntax highlighter for CodeMirror has long been needed for my Form Tools script, so this weekend I finally took a few hours to put one together. It’s not been reviewed by the CodeMirror developer yet (Marijn Haverbeke), but will hopefully find its way into the main script at some point. I also plan on developing a HTML-JS-CSS-Smarty mixed mode, which will be useful in many places.

Example: http://www.benjaminkeen.com/misc/CodeMirror2/mode/smarty/

[UPDATE: Marijn accepted my changes and it's now part of the CodeMirror repository].

[UPDATE 2: I added in Smarty 3 support in May, 2013].

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