Offloading time consuming PHP work outside your application

It is natural that as business applications become more complex they often have to capture and process more information. With web-based applications in particular, this can become a problem.

Let’s suppose we have built a CRM application for our company to store information about our customers. In its first release, the application was designed to capture basic information about a customer,  and store it in the database – simple. This is bread and butter work for most applications and should be fairly light work. User’s of this system would find their interactions with this software to be fairly slick.

However, six months down the line, the company owners think it would be really useful to allow emails to be sent to the customers from the CRM – Quotes, Order Invoices and Progress Updates. Whilst this seems a perfectly legitimate addition to the CRM, adding even simple email connectivity to an application can cause a performance degradation, particularly when using SMTP servers to send the emails. The SMTP protocol is a very ‘chatty’ protocol, and to just send 1 email, requires several conversations between the application and the server to send an email. I won’t go into the specifics of this conversation but in a nutshell these conversations discuss CONNECTION, AUTHENTICATION, SENDING, DELIVERY and RESPONSE. Each of these steps can take a while to happen, and sending an email can very easily amount to an additional three or four seconds of delay that the user would experience waiting for the page to reload and allow them to continue. This is known as IO Blocking Behaviour.


The user of the software wants to click the “send message” button, and then move on to the next customer or activity, but they have to wait for the message to be sent before they can. Three or four seconds per message, per customer, per day can amount to quite a lot of waiting time. So how to we overcome this.

There are several ways you could achieve this, but in this article I am going to explore offloading the “Email sending” process to be handled at a later time. The idea behind this is that the user still clicks the “send message” button, but instead of actually sending the email at this time, we just log a request that the user has requested to send an email. This request could be stored in a log file, or a database table, or even sent to a Message Broker server (more on that later). Regardless of where and how the request to send the email is stored, the user is not blocked by waiting for the email to send. They are notified that the email has been queued for delivery and can carry on their work without the three or four second delay.

Who actually sends the email then..?

Good question. We are going to build a PHP page which scans the queue, or log for email requests and then processes them one at a time. This process can take place on the same, or even a different server, and can be running in the background all day. The only purpose of this process is to send emails that have been requested. Whilst this process is happy chugging away in the corner, the user’s are interacting with their CRM quite happily, raising more and more email requests. The user’s don’t actually care if their email email is delivered seconds, or even minutes after they clicked the “Send Message” button, they just want to know that it will be sent. We can call this partnership between the CRM and the Email Processor a non-blocking relationship. The activity of one system is not being held up by another.

Look out for the next part of this article where I will look at a few techniques to achieve offline processing of these emails, first by using CRON Jobs and then using a more robust messaging system such as RabbitMQ and the AMQP protocol.

Thanks for reading.


Double-click button prevention with jQuery

Quite often it is necessary to prevent users from double-clicking on submit buttons, or in fact any buttons on your website. This is particularly important if you are processing orders or payments. Here is a very simple scriptlet which will prevent any buttons from being double clicked.


The above script will prevent double clicks on all button elements. If you want to attach to a single control, such as a button called “button_submit” you can do this as follows:


MacOSX Remove Timemachine Backups.backupdb folder

If you ever decide to change which drive your MacOSX Time machine backups are stored on, you may find that you will need to remove the “Backups.backupdb” folder from the old drive after you have performed the switchover.

Whilst you can do this in the conventional manner by right-clicking and selecting “Move to Trash”, you will soon discover that it is a very slow process. If you are confident with the command line you can perform the same action from the command line, using the “Terminal” application. I will reiterate that if you are not comfortable using the Terminal then this article may not be for you – a lot of damage can be caused by using the terminal incorrectly.

In order to achieve this you need to know where your Backups.backupdb folder is. With my setup the old folder is stored on an external drive called “LaCie1000”.

Using the Terminal

1. Go to the spotlight tool on your mac (the Magnifying glass icon) and start typing Terminal.

2. You should see a black icon and the application “Terminal” – click on this to launch the application.

3. If you do not know what your drive is called you can run this command:

Listing MacOSX Drive volumes in the command line

diskutil list

4. If you try and remove the folders using the normal “rm” command you might be presented with thousands of “Operation not permitted” errors. To get around this we can prefix our command using a “bypass” helper which will stop this error from occurring and thus successfully removing the folder. Apple, for whatever reason have changed the location of this helper so take note of the paths below, and choose the correct one for your operating system version.

In 10.8 Mountain Lion, bypass moved into ‘Helpers’:


In 10.10 Yosemite, bypass moved here:


Running the command

5. As I use OSX Yosemite the latter path is the one for me, and this will make my final command as follows:

sudo /System/Library/Extensions/TMSafetyNet.kext/Contents/MacOS/bypass rm -rfv /Volumes/[your disk]/Backups.backupdb/[path]

If you run the above you should start seeing a long list of files being removed.

It is important to note that this process is still not instant, but is far quicker in my opinion than the “Move to trash” method.

Good luck.


new jQuery Plugin – Equal Height Columns

Have you ever been in the situation where you need to use floated columns on your web page and want them all to be the same height as the tallest column? If you have, then you will probably know that you can achieve it with CSS. However, I don’t like this approach, and quite frankly have never understood it fully anyway. As I used jQuery in practically every project I write I thought it would be neater to just write a jQuery plugin which would do all of the hard work for me.

Here is the plugin code:

 /* * @Copyright (c) 2013 James Stoddern -  
 * Permission is hereby granted, free of charge, to any person  
 * obtaining a copy of this software and associated documentation  
 * files (the "Software"), to deal in the Software without  
 * restriction, including without limitation the rights to use,  
 * copy, modify, merge, publish, distribute, sublicense, and/or sell  
 * copies of the Software, and to permit persons to whom the  
 * Software is furnished to do so, subject to the following  
 * conditions:  
 * The above copyright notice and this permission notice shall be  
 * included in all copies or substantial portions of the Software.  
 * How to use it:  
 * If you have a series of floated columns, which you wish to make the same height, give them all the same  
 * class, and then run the plugin. It will determine the tallest div, and equalise the height of the rest  
 * $('.selector').equalHeights();  

(function( $ ) {
    $.fn.equalHeights = function() {
        var tallestElement = 0;
        var startRow = 0;
        var elements = new Array();
        var $currentElement;
        var topPosition = 0;

        this.each(function() {

            $currentElement = $(this);
            topPostion = $currentElement.position().top;

            if (startRow != topPostion) {
                for (currentDiv = 0 ; currentDiv < elements.length ; currentDiv++) {

                elements.length = 0;
                startRow = topPostion;
                tallestElement = $currentElement.height();

            } else {
                tallestElement = (tallestElement < $currentElement.height()) ? ($currentElement.height()) : (tallestElement);


            for (currentDiv = 0 ; currentDiv < elements.length ; currentDiv++) {


}) ( jQuery );

So how do you use it?

Well, firstly copy the plugin from this page, and save it to a folder where you normally keep your jquery scripts. I usually call it jquery_equalheight.js. After you have included jQuery in your page, simply inlcude the plugin as well.

Next, all you need to do is run the plugin against a selector. In the case of your columns, make sure they all have the same class and then add this neat bit of code to run the plugin.



Store your snippets with Github Gist

If you are coding a lot then you probably have chunks of re-useable code which you copy and paste into your applications to save time. These are what we refer to as “snippets”. There are a number of ways you can store these, for example in a text-file on your desktop, or the IDE in which you are working. However, if you are working on a different computer, will these snippets be available to you? Unlikely, unless you duplicate them. Then of course, if you need to edit your snippet, you need to make sure you update it everywhere else you might have a copy stored.

bye bye problem, enter GitHub

Our friends at GitHub have come up with the solution, and named it Gist. This is essentially a free online and version controlled area for you to save your snippets. You can create a new snippet (either public or private) and then paste your code into it. Wherever you go, these snippets are available to you, and if you want to update them you can.


SEO friendly urls in codeigniter – the challenge

Codeigniter is generally quite good at providing friendly urls, mainly due to its url segment approach. Instead of the traditional querystring approach where parameters are passed as follows:


codeigniter uses segments instead.


So the segmented approach is much friendlier but still not perfect. What I want to achieve is a much more descriptive url such as “view-my-account.html”. In order to achieve this I decided to generate a ‘slug’ (usually a hyphenated string in lower case) for each post as I create or edit them in the cms. The slug is a friendly version of the blog post title as can be seen below. This is stored in a column called “slug” in the database for use later.


The intention is to have my controller perform a database or file-cache lookup for the slug, and then route it to the correct controller.


One of the first challenges is to tame the Codeigniter routing system, which allows urls to be directed to the correct controllers and methods. Routes can be managed inside of “/application/config/routes.php”. In order to dynamically route the first step is to add some extra code in the routes.php to handle dynamic routes:

// include the dynamic routes from the cache file

We also need some way of actually generating these routes, so what I decided to do was generate them when posts are created or updated. After the new post has been written to the database, a new record is created that contains the friendly url, the Slug, and the route that it should be directed to. In my blog this model is quite straight forward and comprises of the segments “blog/category/postid”. So in my add/edit posts I have some code like this

//update the record for the dynamic route
$dynamic_route = "blog/index/" . $category . "/false/" . (int)$id;
$route = array(
    'post_id' => $id,
    'route' => $dynamic_route,
    'slug' => $slug

$result = mysql_query("SELECT * FROM routes WHERE post_id='{$id}'");
$num_rows = mysql_num_rows($result);

if($num_rows > 0) {
    //update the record
    $this->db->where('post_id', $id);
    $this->db->update('routes', $route);
} else {
    //insert a new record
    $this->db->insert('routes', $route);

Now that the route has been generated we have to make it accessible to Codeigniter somehow. To save on database queries I have decided to write all of the routes for the site into a file cache – this lives inside “application/cache/routes.php” and effectively contains an array of all the routes for the site. I did this with a new model called “Router_m” which has a method called “cache_routes()” which looks as follows:

class Router_m extends CI_Model {

    function __construct() {

    //grab all of the routes from the database, and cache to a file
    public function cache_routes()
        $query = $this->db->get("routes");

        foreach ($query->result() as $row)
            $data[] = '$route["' . $row->slug . '"] = "' . $row->route . '";';
            $output = "load->helper('file');
            write_file(APPPATH .  "cache/routes.php", $output);

This cache file is loaded by “config/routes.php” after the static routes have been defined. The file looks like this:

$route["new-single-whore-left-me.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/27";
$route["content-management-system.html"] = "blog/index/blog/false/3";
$route["inline-ajax-image-uploader-for-tinymce.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/45";
$route["jumping-on-the-bandwagon-youtube-videos.html"] = "blog/index/blog/false/41";
$route["test-post.html"] = "blog/index/blog/false/46";
$route["seo-friendly-urls-in-codeigniter-the-challenge.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/44";
$route["big-brother-is-watching-google-analytics.html"] = "blog/index/blog/false/42";
$route["new-image-uploader-plupload.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/43";
$route["sublime-text-2-video-intro.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/40";
$route["multiband-compression.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/39";
$route["store-your-snippets-with-github-gist.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/38";
$route["on-fire-with-sparks.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/37";
$route["sublime-coding.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/35";
$route["my-new-guitar.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/36";
$route["a-moment-of-clarity-literally.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/33";
$route["song-writing-basics.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/15";
$route["codeigniter-language-packs.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/29";
$route["are-you-listening-to-your-speakers-or-your-room.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/34";
$route["the-importance-of-gain-staging.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/32";
$route["the-studio.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/30";
$route["the-subjective-part-of-mixing-your-own-vocals.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/28";
$route["implementing-tinymce-as-your-rich-text-editor.html"] = "blog/index/developer/false/2";
$route["welcome-to-jamesstoddernnet.html"] = "blog/index/home/false/26";
$route["new-single-out-now-smile.html"] = "blog/index/musician/false/14";

Of course, to make use of all this routing, I have had to change the links on the site, so that in the “recent posts” panel for example, instead of building a traditional codeigniter controller/method style link,  the slugs can be used directly. As soon as you navigate to the slug, its correct location is loaded from the routes cache. Of course the user doesn’t know this and just sees the friendly title. I have also got the page title to be set now from the post’s title as well to make everything even more friendly.

Orange OR15 tube amplifier – USA 110v to UK 230v voltage switch

I was lucky enough in December 2014 to find a used Orange OR15 head in the Las Vegas Guitar Center. poserHowever, before purchasing gear like this from over the pond it is necessary to know whether it can be switched to run on the UK voltage. Some guitar amps are fixed to a 110v USA and others on set to the 230v UK voltage. If you buy a USA amp which is fixed to 110 then you might have problems. In some cases I have heard that the internal power supply needs to be converted.

Luckily, the OR15 head does have a voltage selector switch – although it is not in a very accessible location. In order to get to it you need to remove the amp from the case – the voltage selector is tucked away on the side of the amp.


Remove the amp…

First remove the bolts from the feet – these go all the way through the feet, the wooden case and screw into the amp body itself. Once these have been removed you can slide the amp out gently – be careful not to damage the tubes on the way out. On the left side of the amp (looking from the front) you will find a red selector switch – 110, or 230. Switch it over to 230v if you want to use it in the UK.


Change the fuse…

Wait, that’s not all though – you also need to switch the fuse over, as the USA fuse is rated differently, and as you are now going to use your amp in the UK, you need a higher rated fuse. Using a flat screwdriver you can remove the fuse case from directly below the power cable socket. You should find two fuses in here. One of them should be a T500ma fuse – make sure this is the one that’s in use.



Remember, if you are not confident doing this kind of thing you should take it to an experienced electrical technician or your local guitar shop. There are extremely high voltages in tube amps so you can get a severe shock if you don’t know what you are doing.

Tilley lamp cleanup

I was clearing out some junk in the garage today and came across an old Tilley lamp, covered in cobwebs and dirt it was. So when I got it back home I dismantled the lamp to take the glass bowl out and gave it a good wash in soapy water.


After brushing all the dirt of the lamp body I just used a bit of metal polish wadding. I wanted to retain a fairly worn look so there was no attempt to make it look like a new lamp. I’m quite pleased with the results and now have it hanging outside my log cabin door. Very nice!


Carl’s Jr. – Single Mile High Bacon Cheeseburger

The Single Mile High Bacon Cheeseburger with thick-cut applewood smoked bacon on a charbroiled beef patty.

This is a stunning burger which I enjoy at the end of my Las Vegas vacations, due to the fact that there is a Carl’s Jr. in McCarran International Airport.

There is nothing to complain about this burger – in fact I would say that this is the only restaurant grade burger I’ve ever had from a fast food burger outlet. This wipes the floor with a McDonald’s any day of the week, although the prices are higher in Carl’s, so you would expect that.

I have stupidly never photographed myself eating one so I’ll have to make do with one from their website for now.