Open Source 2018

Posted on Jan 6, 2018 in Blog, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 0 comments

Now a brand new year has rolled in, I find myself taking stock of where I’m at as a developer, and frankly I’m feeling pretty frustrated! Other than working an Electron project last year at my day job, I’ve been using exclusively old technologies for some time. That takes a toll. It’s not so much just working on the “cool new stuff” as is being aware that there are simple better ways to do what I’m doing.

Last year the majority of my time was spent working on the Form Tools 3 upgrade. It’s now finally approaching the end of the alpha phase with all modules, themes and the core having been converted to object-oriented, PHP7-compatible code. That’s pretty great, and in some respects I already trust it more than Form Tools 2.

Nevertheless, it still doesn’t use the most current of technologies. I’m deliberately supporting as far back as PHP 5.3 to maximize compatibility with people’s server environments, which of course prohibits using any of the more modern features of the language. And client-side it’s positively archaic: it still uses jQuery and per-page object namespacing to provide interactivity. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking it: it’s served its purpose well. But holy cow do I ever need to do something more modern to keep me engaged.

So! Here’s the plan for the coming year. For the first couple of months I’m going to continue fighting the good fight to get Form Tools out the door. Once v3 is the official build I’m going to start converting parts of the UI to React/Redux, starting with a brand new in-app upgrade system. I learned my lesson with FT3 – a massive rewrite of an application of that size just isn’t feasible. From here on out, the approach will be incremental updates.

The current upgrade process relies on the user’s installation passing details of what they have installed to the Form Tools website, which then intelligently constructs a new package of available components with the appropriate compatibilities. The plan is to do two things here:

  1. phase out the website as the key player. The custom CMS powering the Form Tools website will continue to be the single source of truth for available component versions and compatibilities, but instead it’ll now simply provide a REST feed of the information which can be accessed by the individual installation.
  2. have the Form Tools installations themselves download the source code directly from the github repos and install/upgrade the components directly. No more manual downloading of content from the website and FTP’ing it to the server.

The backend of Form Tools will never be cutting edge, but the front-end has far more room to modernize. This is what I’m going to be focusing on. I think it’s a sensible way to stay sane. ;)

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Dec 2017, project updates

Posted on Dec 3, 2017 in Ace-diff, birdsearch.org, Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 0 comments

Long time no post! I’m en route to Panama for a quick birding trip so I’m taking a hiatus from my open source work. Quick summary of where we stand with some of them:

birdsearch.org. This project has been pretty much unchanged since the first Beta release, but it was always pretty solid. I’d love to make a few improvements to both the architecture and feature list but so few people actually use the script I can’t justify the time. It’s a pity – I personally use the site daily to track bird sightings all over the place (such as the locations I’ll be visiting in Panama!) – but time is time.

Form Tools. This has been occupying the vast bulk of my time the most this past year. The Form Tools 3 alpha is coming along well: only 7 more modules to update, plus the API, plus a whole lotta testing. I’ve posted that I was hoping to get it into Beta by January and make it the standard build by the following month. That may have been a little optimistic (the Form Builder module update has taken an eon) but I don’t think it’ll be far off. We’ll see.

d3pie.org. Sadly fallen into neglect. Recently a chap offered to take over maintenance of ace-diff – another one of my older, less-maintained libs – I’m rather hoping someone will offer to do the same for d3pie. It’s a cool little script, but in dire need of a maintainer.

Anyway. Off to bird.

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Form Tools 3 alpha!

Posted on Sep 24, 2017 in Form Tools, Open Source Projects | 0 comments

Last weekend I release a new alpha version of the next major release of Form Tools. This has been a loooong time in coming, hoo boy.

All code is on github.

At this point, only the Core, System Check module and Classic Grey theme are FT3 compatible, but that list should be expanding pretty fast.

But FIRST I need to get that upgrade script back online! I hoped to work on this weekend but had to patch an issue with generatedata instead.

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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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