Embarassing Old Code

The Inspiration

We just switched to Slack at work and a friend created some integrations using PHP. This reminded me of a personal PHP project I’d worked on and thought I should dig it up.

The Setup

Back in 2005 I was doing C# WinForms work for a day job and just dealing with falling out of love with Perl. I hadn’t done any serious web development since college. I got into GTD pretty heavily and was looking around for tools that I could use anywhere. Of course a web app was the best solution for that time since there really wasn’t much in the way of smart phones or devices out1.

I found a great project run by BSAG2 called Tracks. It was built using Ruby on Rails. I didn’t know Ruby or Rails so of course the logical thing to do was to rewrite it in PHP.

I’ve been using Rails off and on from 2008 to 2012 and from 2012 mostly full time. Ruby is now one of my favorite languages and I think this project helped me understand what a good web framework Rails is.

Let’s see what gems we can discover in this treasure trove of old code.


Overall this code doesn’t match my current sense of code cleanliness. There’s a mix of tabs and spaces everywhere and tons of trailing whitespace. There’s lots of dead code, mostly around database access. It looks like I was working on multiple different techniques at once.

$query = $this->db->prepare('UPDATE todos SET context_id=:context_id, description=:description, notes=:notes, due=:due, project_id=:project_id WHERE id=:id');
$query->bindParam(':id', $id);
$query->bindParam(':context_id', $context_id);
$query->bindParam(':description', $description);
$query->bindParam(':notes', $notes);
$query->bindParam(':due', $due);
$query->bindParam(':project_id', $project_id);

About the only thing I have going for me in this code is that I’m doing variable replacement in my SQL statements properly so it’s at least not one giant SQL injection attack.

Project Structure

Project Structure

Man, I had no concept of organization in this thing.

The tpl files are actually just PHP files I was using as templates, I guess the idea is that they were kind of like erb’s. I remember thinking how clever I was to use PHP as the templating language (because that’s what it was developed for) and not something like Smarty.

My Idea of MVC

<?php while($row = $completed->fetch(PDO::FETCH_ASSOC)): ?>
    <td valign="top"><img src='<?=$c->BASE_URL?>/img/done-checkmark.gif' alt="done checkmark" /></td><td valign="top"><?=htmlentities($row["description"],ENT_QUOTES, 'utf-8');?> (<?=$row['context_name'];?>, <?=$row['project_name'];?>)</td>
<?php endwhile; ?>

So… there’s really no division between models and views. I have one giant model that sets up the queries, the views actually execute it and use the raw results.

I remember trying to figure out why people needed models since if I wrote them it would basically just be querying the database and filling in an object with what I already had in my associative array.

class AgingController extends MvcController
  public function route($options, $tpl)
    global $db;
    $model = new TodoModel();

    $tpl->set('title', 'Portage - Aging');

    $body = & new Template('aging.tpl');
    $body->set('c', Config::singleton());
    $body->set('completed', $model->getLastCompleted());

    $agingQuery = $model->getSortedByCreated();

    $body->set('todos', $agingQuery);

    $tpl->set('content', $body->fetch());


My controllers at least load the view and combine some of the data and inject it into the views. I can appreciate some of the magic that Rails does by automatically matching views to controller actions after seeing how much boiler plate code is copied everywhere in here (not that I couldn’t have done better with the language that I had…).

My Crazy Router

else if($options[$c->offset] == "todo")
  if($options[$c->offset+1] == "edit")
    $todoEdit = new TodoEditController();
    $todoEdit->route($options, $tpl);
    if($options[$c->offset+1] == 'submit')
      //set some cookies
      setcookie("last_project", $_REQUEST["project_id"], time()+$c->COOKIE_TIMEOUT, "/");
      setcookie("last_context", $_REQUEST["context_edit_id"], time()+$c->COOKIE_TIMEOUT, "/");

    $todo = new TodoController();
    $todo->route($options, $tpl);

my IndexController.php3 contains a giant nested if statement that handles all the routing for the site. I remember one of the issues I ran into was trying to figure out where I was. If I was hosted at http://lolindrath.com/gtd/ vs http://gtd.lolindrath.com I had a global offset variable to figure out where the parts of the URL I cared about started (i.e. /todo/12). I spent a good bit of time reading CakePHP source code trying to figure out how they did it (I obviously never got around to fixing that up).

Death of a Project

I abandoned the project sometime in 2010 then I learned Ruby on Rails and how to deploy it. I used the main Tracks project for quite a while until I setup a task syncing system using gitdocs. Now I’ve moved onto using Taskpaper and Dropbox.


  • I’ve obviously come a long way in my development as a programmer / software engineer / software architect.
  • It’s nice to keep these bits of old projects around as yard sticks with which to measure growth and progress.
  • I hope I see just as much growth in my coding style in another couple years.
  1. My Handspring Visor Platinum didn’t count. Though graffiti worked pretty well.

  2. I even managed to contribute back a little code (my first ever OSS contribution).

  3. Redundant comment! “Redundant comments are just places to collect lies and misinformation.” - Clean Code

Seven Years is too Long

I was at my last company for seven years. I moved between locations, projects, positions and responsibilities but I was at the same company for seven years, not really even thinking about moving.

I worked for one of the major defense contractors and at the time it was fun and we were doing interesting work. It was mostly short lived research contracts for the service labs and the DoD so it was always something new. It stopped being fun though when the money started to dry up and belts started to get tightened. I could see the writing on the wall and it was time to make a move1.

My interview skills were rusty, my resume was completely neglected and it took time to get everything in line before I started breezing past the phone screens and into interviews at companies I could really work for.

Looking back now after a year working at my new company here’s what I would’ve done differently.

1. Know the Companies in the Area

Keep up with what the great companies are in the area, the technologies they use and the kind of positions they look for the most. Shop for companies that match what you want as far as benefits, culture and your skill set. If you target a specific set of companies you know already match what you want you will save a lot of time by not peppering Monster with a million resumes and getting a ton of replies from people who don’t know how much you’re worth.

Go to the user groups in your area. If you want to stay in the same technologies or branch out, it’s a perfect way to find out who is in the area. Many companies sponsor these as a way to recruit new employees. This is also a great way sharpen your presenting skills. You can start with a lightning talk and move from there.

2. Interview at Least Every Other Year

You might not be ready to leave your current company but you should at least stay in practice. Most programmers have enough recruiters calling that you could answer the phone every once in a while and do a phone screen and see how it goes.

Doing this regularly helps you overcome the interview jitters.

3. Practice

  • Find a sample interview programming question on the web and work through a few with a timer.
  • Review the Big-O notation of some of the common algorithms.
  • Work with a whiteboard to talk through an overview of some software you wrote recently.

4. Perfect Your Pitch

You know the companies now, you’ve talked to a few people, now change your pitch.

Incorporate what you’ve learned from your practice interviews. For me people were worried that I worked on some ancient radar system mad had no relevant skills. I emphasized that I worked for a research group and worked on new technology like Ruby on Rails and did networking research.

Another important area I had to work on was how to concisely describe the projects I worked on and how to taylor that description to technical and non-technical people. This is where face time is great, if you start seeing someone’s eyes start glazing over while you’re telling them about the distributed test infrastructure you setup and the long list of all the technologies you used you know that you have to change tact.

5. Time Your Move

Don’t leave a job you love for no good reason but also don’t blindly trust that they are paying you what you’re worth and will take care of you for the next forty years. Dan Benjamin of 5by5 and Quit! fame emphasizes this point: when push comes to shove, if they have to let you go they will.

If you see the business going downhill or in a direction you don’t agree to you can make your move quickly before everyone sees the writing on the wall and starts peppering local companies with resumes. You won’t have to blindly apply to all the job board postings you can if you’ve already established good contacts in your local user groups and know exactly for which companies you work.

6. Wear a Suit

Make more excuses to wear a suit or get dressed up. This will make you feel more comfortable and less out of place when you do have to put one on to go to an interview. It will also limit the surprises when something doesn’t fit or the TSA zipped your suit pants into your suitcase ruining your favorite suit 2.


Being on top of the above items can save you months worth of hassle and get you onto your next job more quickly and painlessly.

  1. About all I got right was the timing.

  2. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

Bought and Unread Books

The Inspiration

I also have a lot of books I’ve purchased and barely cracked the binding. This is an awesome goal to shoot for so I started thinking about how I would do it, here are my thoughts.

My Books

Scary Books

These aren’t separated out but they warrant talking about. These books have been raised to such a level through fame and infamy that I’m scared to touch them. GEB and SICP and are firmly in this category for me. So is The Annotated Turing, even though Charles Petzold is a great writer (go read Code), then chapter two starts talking about transcendental numbers and degrees of infinity my long seated math fear comes to the surface.

I need to get over this fear and dive into one of them. If you’re in the Philadelphia area the Clojadelphia user group is starting a SICP study group set to meet Febuary 5th.

The Projects

Project Books

This pile mainly consist of books that I need to do projects and exercises along with reading the content to really learn.


Reference Books

I will probably never read these books straight through but it would be good to skim through so I know what is in them so I can use them more effectively.1

Branching out

Branching Out Book

This stack is mostly about reading outside my field though somewhat tangentially. I tried to start the Black Swan a while back but couldn’t get into it. I also got about half way through GEB on vacation one year but got pretty lost when I picked it up again a few months later.

Get organized

Get Organized Books

Here’s my attempt to get better organized and learn more about project management. I’ve read through David Allen’s Getting Things Done several times but I can always read it again. It’s packed full of useful information and you don’t have to take the whole system as written, you can start using some parts and go from there.


Sci-Fi / Fantasy Books

I’m actually surprised that this stack is so short. I really thought I had way more fiction books in the physical / already bought queue (not shown here: Catch 22).

Math and Poor Perl

Math and Perl Books

Here are a few math books I’ve meant to read. I used a fair bit of linear algebra in my masters program even though I sucked at it in my under grad days. Discrete math always seemed the most relevant but this class was during a too-many-credits-in-one-semester haze so I’d love to work through it again.

The Hawking book was a random purchase and while I’ve skimmed it I can’t say I’ll ever read it cover to cover.

And then there’s Perl. It’s not in the reference category because i just don’t do perl anymore though it was the first programming language I fell in love with. I can’t get rid of this book2 because I spent so much time in this book.

The Work Shelf

Books at Work

I used to have almost all my books at work at my last company and almost never used them. This is the subset I decided to take in or work bought for me. I think they pretty much match up with the categories I already setup.


I think the goal is still achievable, especially if you consider not reading the reference stack though the Project books would be a bit intense to work through in a single year.

Also, I think Fogus’ Reading for the Rushed also applies to all of these books. If I don’t find Black Swan interesting I should probably just donate it instead of suffering through it, for example.

  1. I bought the AOCP in college for way too much money relative to how much I had in my bank acccount. I didn’t get to use it until my master’s level algorithms course but it did come in handy (finally).

  2. Much like the TI-99/A programmer’s manual and my COBOL book.

Running a Teamspeak 3 Server on Digital Ocean

Digital Ocean provides a Virtual Private Server for just $5 a month. It also happens to be perfect to run a Teamspeak 3 server on. Teamspeak is a great way to chat with friends while playing games or pair programming.

This how-to assumes you’re running Ubuntu 12.04 (or something close to it) and that you already have your server spun up and ready to SSH into. Visit the Community section of Digital Ocean if you need further help.

Step 1 - Get TeamSpeak 3

Our first step is to download the TeamSpeak 3 server from teamspeak.com. Make sure you’re in a directory you own and then execute the following command:

wget http://dl.4players.de/ts/releases/

Step 2 - Create the teamspeak3 User

Next, we need a user for the server to run as:

sudo adduser --disabled-login teamspeak3

You can hit enter for all the questions to take the default answers. ## Step 3 - Extract the Teamspeak 3 Software ## The following step will extract the software we will need:

tar xjf teamspeak3-server_linux_amd64-

Step 4 - Move the Software Into Place

We need to move the extracted software to a better location:

sudo mv teamspeak3-server_linux-amd64 /usr/local/teamspeak3

And then give the user we created permission to our new directory:

sudo chown -R teamspeak3 /usr/local/teamspeak3

Step 5 - Have TeamSpeak 3 Start on Droplet Boot Up

The TeamSpeak software package comes with an init script that we have to run as a the teamspeak3 user.

Create and set the content of the /etc/init.d/teamspeak3 file to this:


su -c "/usr/local/teamspeak3/ts3server_startscript.sh $@" teamspeak3

Set the file to be executable:

sudo chmod u+x /etc/init.d/teamspeak3

And then tell the server to start TeamSpeak when the Droplet starts

sudo update-rc.d teamspeak3 defaults

For the first time we will start it by hand:

sudo service teamspeak3 start

You should see the output similar to the following:

Copy the output from this step and save it somewhere safe, you will need it in a later step. ## Step 6 - Open the Firewall Port ##

If you’re running a firewall on your droplet you will have to open the TeamSpeak 3 server port, 9987. Here’s how to allow that port using UFW - Uncomplicated Firewall:

sudo ufw allow 9987/udp

Step 7 - Verify the Server Is Running

  • Install the client locally for your operating system from TeamSpeak - Downloads
  • Connections -> Connect…
  • Enter the IP of your droplet and connect

Step 8 - Take Ownership

When you first log into your fresh TeamSpeak 3 server you should see the following dialog:

Copy everything after the token= and paste this:

Now you’re the server administrator:

Step 8 - Set a Password and Server Name

Right click on the TeamSpeak ] [ Server item in the left-hand panel and click ‘Edit Virtual Server’:

Rename the server by changing the Server Name field and also set a password to access the server:

Now only the people you choose can access your TeamSpeak server.


Now you have a great way to chat with friends using a server you control. Just distribute the your droplets address plus the password and you’re set.

More help and advanced server setup articles are available in the TeamSpeak 3 Knowledgebase

Update (05/28/2014): incorporated instructions on how to install as a regular user into this article. Here’s How to Run Teamspeak 3 Server as a Regular User