Gmail + Google Apps on the BlackBerry Z10

Google Apps logoA few days ago I posted an article about Gmail’s 2-step authentication and getting it working on the BlackBerry Z10. Judging by the incoming traffic from search engines, folks are experiencing a variety of other problems with Gmail on the new BlackBerry OS 10. So let’s take a step back and look at this beast from the start.

Two options

Google used to provide a dedicated Gmail app for the BlackBerry OS. This became end-of-life on 22 November 2011, however. This leaves you two methods of configuring Gmail/Google Apps on your new Z10 (and this will apply equally to the forthcoming Q10):

  • IMAP, CalDAV and CardDAV; or
  • Exchange ActiveSync

Contrary to advice I’ve seen elsewhere on the internet, using IMAP doesn’t prevent you from synchronising your calendar and contacts – that’s what the separate CalDAV and CardDAV protocols are for. So which should you choose? In some cases, the decision is made for you. Google has announced that it is phasing out support for ActiveSync, certainly for free email accounts. At the moment, it appears that there’s a stay of execution until the end of June 2013, but the writing is on the wall.

If you’re using Google Apps, it’s likely you’ll continue to benefit from ActiveSync, certainly if you’re a paying customer. ActiveSync is licensed from Microsoft and your fees will go towards paying for that. All the same, knowing from experience the way that Google tends to force change upon its users (even enterprise customers are stuck with the constant upgrade/”evergreen” effect), it might be prudent to choose IMAP/CalDAV/CardDAV from the beginning. It looks like this is where Google is focusing its efforts, so this is where we’re most likely to see bug fixes and improvements.

IMAP/CalDAV/CardDAV

Automatic setup

Go to System Settings -> Accounts -> Add Account -> Email, Calendar and Contacts. After I entered my email address and password (I’m a Google Apps user), I discovered that the app was intelligent enough to pick up settings for all three protocols. I was taken to a screen giving me the option to switch on sync for Email, Contacts and Calendar:

BB settings

I say I entered my password, but I use Gmail’s 2-step authentication (and you should too), so what I entered was the “application-specific password” I’d generated previously. See my earlier article for details. Having done this, in theory everything should work.

Broken CalDAV

Update: it looks like this problem has been fixed in BlackBerry OS 10.0.10.90, so make sure you upgrade, if you’re encountering issues with Google CalDAV.

Unfortunately there’s a snag. At the moment, CalDAV access is broken. One of the symptoms is an error message along the following lines: “Your email and contacts accounts were successfully added. At this time, the www.google.com/calendar/dav/[email protected]/events server is unavailable and your calendar account can’t be added. Please try again later.” BlackBerry is aware of this and has posted a KB article in which it states:

This is a previously reported issue that is being investigated by our development team. No resolution time frame is currently available.

There are two proposed “workarounds”, neither of which really fixes the problem. The first is to try again, 24 hours later. Ha. Let me know if that works for you. The other option is to use ActiveSync instead. Sorry – isn’t Google phasing that out, BlackBerry? As a business user, the “No resolution time frame” comment is particularly irksome.

Extra Calendars

Once the CalDAV issue is fixed, you may want to know how to integrate multiple Google Calendars to your device. There are two things to know. Firstly, if you browse to your calendar sync settings you can in theory switch on syncing your additional calendars. I say “in theory” because I haven’t been able to test it yet.

The second thing to know is that you can add multiple Gmail CalDAV accounts (e.g. if you have access to a spouse’s calendar), but how to do it is not immediately apparent. You’ll need to go to System Settings -> Accounts -> Add Account. This time, go straight to “Advanced”. This takes you to the “Advanced Setup” screen, and here we see a slight weakness in the BlackBerry OS 10 user interface design. There’s no scroll bar suggesting there are more items off-screen. This is misleading, because underneath “POP”, if you slide the options upwards, you’ll find “CalDAV” and “CardDAV”. Choose CalDAV and follow the manual instructions below.

Manual Setup

Automatic setup might not work for you. Or it might work, but only give you IMAP, not contacts and calendar. In this event, you’ll need to use the “Advanced” option. Note that if you do this in the middle of setting up email, it will only give you the option of configuring IMAP. You’ll then need to go back to System Settings -> Accounts -> Add Account -> Advanced (twice), to set up CalDAV and CardDAV. See my comments above about the CalDAV/CardDAV options not being immediately apparent.

IMAP settings

  • Address: imap.gmail.com
  • Port: 993
  • Encryption: SSL

At the bottom of that screen, the “Edit Folder Settings” button allows you to choose which IMAP folders (Gmail labels) you’d like to sync.

SMTP settings

  • Address: smtp.gmail.com
  • Port: 465
  • Encryption: SSL

CalDAV settings
Server address will be something like www.google.co./calendar/dav/calendarID/events. You’ll need to know the calendar ID. In my case, this is my email address. To double-check that, go to your Google Calendar. Under the “My Calendars” panel on the left, you should see a drop-drown indicator next to the name of your calendar (the name may by your own name). Click that, then “Calendar Settings” on the pop-up menu. At the bottom of the calendar settings page, you should see “Calendar Address”. To the right of this will be displayed the Calendar ID.

CardDAV settings
The simplest of all to configure. You just need the server address: google.com.

A Note About Passwords

If you’re using 2-step authentication, the same application-specific password should work for all four protocols. If you encounter authentication problems, consider generating a new password for each. Read my earlier article for details.

ActiveSync

Go to System Settings -> Accounts -> Add Account -> Advanced (at the bottom of the screen) -> Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. Here are the settings you’ll need:

  • Domain: google
  • Username: your email address
  • Server address: m.google.com
  • Port: 443
  • Use SSL: on
  • Push: on

This gives you full sync across email, calendar and contacts, with all your settings in one place. Simpler than setting up the other protocols, but beware: it may stop working one day…

Google logo copyright © Google Inc. All rights acknowledged.

Alfresco on Windows Server with Active Directory Authentication

Alfresco LogoLet’s be honest about this: the documentation for Alfresco, the SharePoint-like Enterprise Content Management System is opaque.

Today, I installed the free Community Edition of Alfresco on a Windows Server 2008 R2 virtual machine. The first thing I wanted to do was connect it to Active Directory in order to delegate authentication duties to my domain controllers. I didn’t find the documentation particularly helpful. So here’s what I did:

  1. You won’t be able to do this until you’ve fired up the TomCat server at least once – that causes the creation of the necessary files and folders.
  2. Find the repository.properties file. In the default installation, it will be in the folder, C:\Alfresco\tomcat\webapps\alfresco\WEB-INF\classes\alfresco. Open it with your favourite text editor – preferably not Notepad, since the file has Unix line endings, which Notepad won’t handle correctly.
  3. In that file, find the line authentication.chain=alfrescoNtlm1:alfrescoNtlm. Change it to read authentication.chain=ldap-ad1:ldap-ad,alfrescoNtlm1:alfrescoNtlm and save the file.
  4. Next, go to C:\Alfresco\tomcat\webapps\alfresco\WEB-INF\classes\alfresco\subsystems\Authentication\ldap-ad (or similar, if you chose to install in a different location). You need to edit the file ldap-ad-authentication.properties, but note that you may need to run your text editor as Administrator in order to be able to save your changes. Make the following edits:
    1. Insert your domain: ldap.authentication.userNameFormat=%[email protected]mydomain.local
    2. Put connection details for your DC: ldap.authentication.java.naming.provider.url=ldap://pdc1.mydomain.local:389
    3. Choose an administrator for Alfresco, from your AD list of users: ldap.authentication.defaultAdministratorUserNames=superuser
    4. Insert the administrator’s UPN: ldap.synchronization.java.naming.security.principal=[email protected]
    5. Add the administrator’s password. Yes, in plain text. Yes, this is very bad. Take all necessary precautions: ldap.synchronization.java.naming.security.credentials=someP4ssword
    6. Put the search base (possibly a subset of your AD tree) for groups: ldap.synchronization.groupSearchBase=OU\=My Groups,DC\=mydomain,DC\=local – NB this is case sensitive, and the extra backslashes are required
    7. Put the search base (possibly a subset of your AD tree) for users: ldap.synchronization.userSearchBase=OU\=My Users,DC\=mydomain,DC\=local – again, this is case sensitive, and the extra backslashes are required
  5. Use the Alfresco Manager Tool to restart the services.

From Alfresco, you should now be able to browse users and groups from whichever OU you used.


Note: I initially did all the above using Alfresco 4.2c, only to discover there are some bugs relating to SharePoint in that release. The recommended solution until a later version is released is to try one of the nightly builds.

Alfresco logo copyright © Alfresco Software, Inc..

SOLVED: Samsung Galaxy Note II stuck on Samsung logo

Samsung Galaxy Note IIThe Galaxy Note 2 (GT-N7105). What a phone. “Too big!” you say? “I can’t see what the problem is,” I say.

Imagine my dismay then this morning, when I discovered my favourite gadget had rebooted itself (without my permission) and was sat on the animated Samsung logo, quietly glowing to itself, most pathetically. Every few seconds, the haptic motor clicked, like a feeble death rattle.

“Curtains”, I thought.

“Pull yourself together man!” I thought.

After removing the battery, rebooting and generally pleading for a reprieve failed to achieve any results, I took stock and started panicking about how many days it was since I last took a backup. A factory reset loomed.

With one last gasping hope I tried rebooting into safe mode. On the Note 2, from a powered off state, you keep the “volume down” button depressed while powering up. Also, keep the power button pressed until the Samsung logo appears.

To my great relief, the phone booted up in safe mode. I restarted the phone from there and it powered up normally. Next job: perform a backup!

Sadly, this won’t fix physical faults with your phone. Sorry if it doesn’t work for you.

Samsung Galaxy Note II image copyright © SamsungTomorrow, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

SOLVED: Outlook 2007 IMAP “The folder … cannot be selected”

Outlook IMAP errorHere’s an obscure one. I was escalated a call today (my job involves, amongst other things, third line support for email issues) where a user was unable to delete or open some items of email within Outlook 2007. An error message pops up saying, “The folder … cannot be selected. This may be because of a limitation of your IMAP server or the folder may have been deleted or moved.”

It turns out the error message is a bit of a red herring. By a process of elimination (starting Outlook in safe mode and selectively disabling add-ins) I found the culprit to be AVG Free. Whether the blame lies with AVG or Outlook 2007 is a moot point. Microsoft has taken a long time to implement IMAP correctly, so I suspect the latter. Whichever the case, no one in a corporate environment should be using a product not licensed commercially, so I sent my user off to buy Kaspersky Anti-Virus.

BlackBerry Z10, Gmail and 2-Step Authentication

Update: If you’ve arrived here looking for solutions to Gmail problems generally on the new BlackBerry OS 10, you might want to read my more recent article, Gmail + Google Apps on the BlackBerry Z10.

BlackBerry Bold 9900 and Z10
The old (Bold 9900) and the new (Z10) – any family resemblance is purely coincidental
One of the perks of my job is getting to try out some new mobile phones, once they’ve been released by my company’s preferred carrier. This week I took delivery of a BlackBerry Z10. It’s a really nice device, but given that my normal phone is a Samsung Galaxy Note 2, I’m afraid I became a little bored of the Z10 within 10 minutes of powering it up. (Yeah yeah, I know, first world problems.)

Inevitably with BlackBerry OS 10 (which is a stonkingly good OS, by the way), one of the problems was going to be that the apps are lagging behind mainstream Apple and Android offerings. Google’s Play store and Apple’s App Store have apps outnumbering BlackBerry apps by a factor of 10. Whether BlackBerry will catch up is a question not even the most far-seeing analysts can predict with confidence.

In the meantime, there will be some speed bumps encountered by dedicated BlackBerry aficionados, such as the one I ran into when attempting to set up my Gmail account today. Like all security conscious users, I have 2-step authentication enabled on my Gmail account. That means that whenever I log into Gmail using a new device or application, a text message is sent to my phone containing a one-time authorisation code, which then needs to be entered into whichever application is trying to use my Gmail credentials.

The email app on BlackBerry 10 is not (yet) capable of handling this process. That means you need to use one of the alternative methods of authentication. To start, you must (preferably from a computer) log into your Google 2-step verification page. Once there, you can be forgiven for thinking that Google has got you covered. There is, after all, a link saying “BlackBerry”:

2-step verification

If you follow the link, you’re instructed to browse to m.google.com/authenticator and download the Authenticator app to your phone, following which everything will be ticketyboo. Except it won’t. You are taken to a largely blank web page. Buried deep within Google’s online help is the reason: “To use Google Authenticator on your BlackBerry device, you must have OS 4.5-7.0.” No OS 10 support then. Bother.

Never fear. Go back to the 2-step verification page and instead choose the Manage application-specific passwords link. Go to the bottom of that page (“Step 1 of 2: Generate a new application-specific password”). Enter a name (like “BlackBerry Z10”) and click “Generate”. You’ll be given a code to enter in the IMAP password and SMTP password boxes within the email setup on your phone. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go.

Why did Noah curse Canaan?

Noah

In Genesis 9 we read the story of Noah being found drunk and naked, by his son Ham. Ham went to tell his brothers about this and their reaction was to cover their father discreetly. When Noah wakes up and hear of Ham’s behaviour, he curses Ham’s son Canaan (verses 18-27).

It’s not easy to read the story with a “ancient mind” – in other words, we don’t precisely understand the social issues associated to this story. If a friend became drunk and took his clothes off today, we’d probably laugh about it, but in ancient Hebrew times, nakedness was still strongly associated to shame (see Genesis 3:7 & 21). Maybe a good comparison today would be uploading a video of your wife, naked, drunk and swearing, to YouTube and sending the link to all the church elders. Ham has said to his brothers, “Oy! Lads! Look at this! *guffaw guffaw*.” The brothers are shocked and treat Noah with appropriate respect where Ham has dishonoured his father greatly. So this is the context for Noah’s reaction.

Next, it seems that Noah’s reaction is borne out of anger. The bible reports a lot of things that it does not condone, David’s adultery being a classic example. Noah cursed Canaan, but we should not necessarily infer that this was an appropriate or proportionate response to the offence. In fact we already know that Noah is in a bad place, because the bible explicitly discourages drunkenness (perhaps for this very reason). So we can try to understand why Noah cursed Canaan without this then instructing us that we ought to behave similarly.

Generational angst might have been on Noah’s mind. We know that God later said (in Exodus 20:5-6), “I… am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” The emphasis here is not that God is in any way vindictive, but that successive generations live with the consequences of the sin (or righteousness) of previous generations. Although what Noah says may be read as a curse, to me it reads more like a prophecy: i.e. If this is the kind of man that Ham is, then these are the inevitable consequences for his children. You reap what you sow. Ironically by bypassing Ham, Noah has avoided the embarrassment of indirectly blaming himself for his own son’s (Ham’s) sin. Then when Noah goes on to bless his other sons, he is by analogy giving himself a pat on the back!


Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSIONĀ®. Copyright Ā© 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

The “NIV” and “New International Version” trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica. Use of either trademark requires the permission of Biblica.

Noah image copyright © Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P., licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

From CodeIgniter to Laravel | part 1: installation

UPDATE: I have re-written this article for the new Laravel 4. You’ll find the updated article over at Geek & Dummy.

Contents


Laravel logoIn my final “how-to” guide on self-hosted web design, I gave a special mention to a relatively new PHP framework, Laravel. I’m very familiar with CodeIgniter, but due to some of its limitations (including concerns over licensing, going forward), many developers have been moving to Laravel. Laravel has been on my “must try it out” list for some time. In this article, I’ll take you through initial installation and some of the issues I faced.

Prerequisites

Since this “how-to” follows my DIY web hosting series, I’m going to assume we’re starting with a similar setup: a virtual web site powered by Apache and PHP on Linux. Other environments work too. See the Laravel documentation for more details.

Installation

The Laravel setup guide is a little unclear about the correct location for its files. Here’s what I’ve found to work. This guide is for Laravel 3.2, but I suspect it will also hold true for later versions in due course. (At the time of writing, 4.0 is still in beta.)

If you’ve created a virtual web site with Virtualmin, you’ll have a new public_html directory at, for example, /home/fred.bloggs/domains/my.funky.site/public_html. Change to the directory above public_html (e.g. /home/fred.bloggs/domains/my.funky.site and proceed as follows, from an SSH login. Make sure you perform these steps as the web site owner (e.g. su fred.bloggs):

wget http://laravel.com/download -O laravel.zip
unzip laravel
rm laravel.zip
mv laravel-laravel-*/* .
mv laravel-laravel-*/.[gt]* .
rmdir laravel-laravel-*
mv public/* public_html/
mv public/.h* public_html/
rmdir public
chmod -R ug+w storage/views

If you read the Laravel installation instructions linearly, you’ll see that you need to make a change to application/config/application.php. It contains a line like:

'key' => 'YourSecretKeyGoesHere!',

The recommendation is that you insert 32+ random characters in place of YourSecretKeyGoesHere!. There’s another way of doing this, if (and only if) the key field is blank. Laravel comes with a CLI (command line interface) called Artisan. If you issue the command php artisan key:generate, a random key will be generated for you automatically and inserted into the file.

To remove “index.php” from your URLs, edit that same file (application/config/application.php). Find the line 'index' => 'index.php', and change it to 'index' => '',. Laravel comes with a .htaccess file in the public directory, which contains the necessary Apache magic to make this all work.

Having done the above, fire up your web browser and point it at your new site. You should arrive at a default introductory Laravel page:

laravel_default

Other frameworks

Now would be a good time put to put Twitter’s Bootstrap and jQuery in place, if you’re planning to use them. Check the download URLs are current before you do this:


wget http://twitter.github.com/bootstrap/assets/bootstrap.zip
unzip bootstrap
rm bootstrap.zip
mv bootstrap/css/* public_html/css/
mv bootstrap/js/* public_html/js/
mv bootstrap/img/* public_html/img/
rm -rf bootstrap
cd public_html/js
wget http://code.jquery.com/jquery-1.9.1.min.js

Configure your development environment

I use NetBeans for development. If you don’t already have a preferred IDE (integrated development environment), I recommend you check it out. Another favourite is Eclipse. You could use an ordinary text editor, but then you’d be missing out on a lot of things that can make your coding more comfortable and efficient.

Having installed Laravel and the other frameworks on my web server, next I use NetBeans to pull the code across to my development environment. Before you do this, still in your SSH shell, you may wish to delete some of the typical directories that Virtualmin creates but which you don’t really need:

rmdir cgi-bin/ homes/

In the NetBeans “New Project” wizard, select the option “PHP Application from Remote Server”. In the remote configuration, ensure that you choose as your “upload directory”, the directory above public_html, since that contains the private (non-web-accessible) Laravel directories, which we will also be playing with.

Once the code has copied across, you’ll want to exclude a couple of Virtualmin-generated directories from further synchronisation. In the project’s properties, go to “Ignored folders”. Add there /logs and /public_html/stats.

Where next

I’m slowly writing additional tutorials, while I take time to learn the framework. See the contents list above for other posts in this series. I also recommend you check out Dayle Rees’ tutorials. Happy coding!

What about dinosaurs?

Question

What do Christians have to say about the existence of dinosaurs?

Answer

plesiosaurus

There are quite a few differing views within the Christian community, ranging from those who believe the fossil records were placed there by God as a test of our faith, to those who believe that the bible must be reinterpreted in the light of the findings of science.

I suppose the biggest perceived hurdle is the assumption that the bible insists the earth is no more than a few thousand years old whereas science insists that dinosaurs became extinct many millions of years ago. I deal with this separately in my How Old is the Earth article. Suffice it to say here that the bible has several references to large and otherwise unidentified creatures such as “leviathan” (e.g. Job 41:1, Psalm 74:14). I do not have a strong view on the time scales within which these creatures existed, but I do not find their existence incompatible with a belief in the truth of the bible.

Easily host your own web sites | part 5: Web design (geek/hacker)

Contents


Rambling introduction. Sorry.

beardy guysIn the last post in this series, I looked at some options for creating a website with relative ease. Perhaps the word “easily” should not be present in the title of this, the last episode.

If you’re a budding geek/hacker, sooner or later running WordPress blogs is going to get old. You could spend a lifetime learning how to bend WordPress to your will (which would be like dancing on shifting sand – it’s constantly changing underneath you and you’ll die from exhaustion) or you could set your mind to doing the thing from scratch. Or near enough from scratch.

I first got into programming (at the age of 11 or so) when the “hacker” community demographic genuinely consisted of bearded recluses. Social skills were an inconvenience. If you couldn’t say it with ones and zeroes, it wasn’t worth saying. Later on, when I took Computer Science at university (along with Law), little had changed. Less than three percent of the people in my year for CompSci were women. Less than three percent had discovered personal hygiene products. It wasn’t the same three percent, by the way.

I say this by way of apology. My path to web development was long and winding. I had experience with many different programming languages before my eyes were opened to the wonders of web-centric coding. This gave me quite an advantage. Diving into this material can be intimidating, if you’ve little or no experience of code. Let me just reassure you: all you need to do is assimilate a little bit of knowledge at a time. Eventually it will all start to hang together. With the tools I’ll show you, you’ll be hammering out awesome code before you can say Xyzzy.

Disclaimer: proceeding down this path may not turn you into a geek. Or cause you to grow a beard. Please try to contain your disappointment, if so.

The building blocks

Many (but by no means all) web sites are built using a combination of:

  • HTML: the language which describes the components of a web page. It has much more to do with layout/structure than with how things actually look. HTML is probably the easiest bit to learn. In your browser, you can right-click on most web pages and select “view source”. What you’ll be looking at is largely HTML code. Start learning HTML at W3Schools. Whenever I need a quick reference for HTML, I go here.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets describe how a web page should look. Colour, positioning, borders, etc. Reference here. Tutorials here. Learn how to do fancy things with CSS at CSS Play and goggle at others’ CSS prowess in the CSS Zen Garden.
  • JavaScript: There seems to be an increasing trend to use “CamelCase” when writing “JavaScript”, these days. When I started learning, it was simply “javascript” – not to be confused with Java. JavaScript is a true programming language, which runs in your browser. It is loaded along with the HTML and CSS and actions are performed on the basis of the JavaScript code instructions. Reference here. Tutorials here.
  • PHP: A hugely popular server-side (so-called because it runs at the web server end, not in the browser) programming language. PHP is by no means the only – nor necessarily the best – web programming language out there. Ruby, Python, Java and ASP.NET all have a strong presence in modern web sites. PHP is the one with which I and many other far superior web developers are familiar. It’s idiosyncratic and inconsistent at times, but I have found it to be easy to learn and for the most part well documented. The official PHP site is an excellent reference tool. If you learn PHP, you’ll be using this site’s function search box regularly. The W3Schools tutorials don’t cut the grade for me here. Start learning PHP at the home of PHP.
  • MySQL: one of the most popular database management systems on the planet. If you need to store a lot of data (or even a little), you’ll benefit from a database engine powering your web site. Learn about using MySQL within PHP here. The official reference is here.

Gasp. That’s a lot to get hold of, isn’t it? Don’t worry – you’ll see that a lot of this learning dovetails together. For example, once you’ve learnt some JavaScript, picking up PHP will be that bit easier, because they have much in common.

Frameworks

You can get by, just knowing the building blocks. But if you want to create efficient, reusable code, without continually reinventing the wheel, you’d do well to make use of some frameworks. Each language has many frameworks and you could spend a lifetime trying them all out. I will steer you in the direction of a small few, but by all means try out as many as you have time for. Each is different from the other, which can be bewildering, but it also means you’re likely to find frameworks which fit or even enhance your style of working.

  • Twitter’s Bootstrap: built by the mighty Twitter, Bootstrap gives you consistent CSS styles, which (amongst other things) help to ensure your web sites look very similar in different browsers. Sooner or later you’ll be stung by cross-browser differences. Making use of a CSS framework such as Bootstrap will reduce the impact of this pain. Bootstrap is more than just a CSS framework, it also has JavaScript plugins. There’s much to explore here and unless you’re already a CSS/design guru, it will make your web sites look better.
  • jQuery: a phenomenal JavaScript library – it enables you to do phenomenal things on the browser side, with very little coding, which would otherwise take you hours of work. jQuery is not the only such library, but it is one of the best. It is further enhanced visually by the excellent jQuery UI.
  • CodeIgniter: I have built many web sites with this PHP development platform. It was my first introduction to the MVC (Model, View, Controller) paradigm, where you split out your database work (Models) from your presentation/pages (Views) and your application/business logic (Controllers). CodeIgniter has some flaws, including the suggestion (a view shared by many) that it would benefit from a ground-up rewrite. But it is well-built, fast, solid and will help you to concentrate on the unique features of your web site, without having to reinvent the wheel all the time. Your resulting code will be easier to understand and maintain.

Special mention

There’s a rapidly up-and-coming PHP framework that deserves some attention at this point, Laravel. I have not personally had chance to experiment with it yet, but I intend to use it for my next web application. I understand it addresses many of the shortcomings of other PHP frameworks and apparently CodeIgniter developers are flocking to it in droves.

Graphics

As I’m sure you can tell, graphic design is not my strong suit. I am amongst other things a web developer, not a web designer. It’s rare to find someone who’s good at both. Nevertheless, even if you’re not graphically inclined, there are still a lot of things you can do to give yourself a “leg up”. Here are my top graphics tips:

  1. Don’t be afraid to copy. There are very few genuine innovators out there. Most fashion is a rehash of other fashion. It’s fine not to be original. See what works, figure out why it works, and put your own spin on it.
  2. Get a good graphics package. Don’t be put off by its name; download GIMP. It’s like Adobe Photoshop at the great price of free. If you’re not short of cash, I can also recommend Adobe Fireworks, which is an excellent but expensive web-focussed design package.
  3. Follow the GIMP tutorials. Really. Do it.
  4. Use an online colour scheme generator.
  5. Soak up some design inspiration from Designpiration or Web Creme.

That’s me done. Now go forth and conquer the interwebs.

Photo of bearded gents copyright © Igal Koshevoy, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.

How old is the Earth?

Question

The bible seems to indicate that the earth and the universe are less than a few tens of thousands of years old. Science talks in terms of billions of years. Which is right?

Answer

Earth from space

For reasons that escape me, “science” is perceived as having fixed, reliable and universally agreed views on the age of the earth and the universe. This does not reflect the reality that science is always a developing field of knowledge and enquiry; we frequently see today’s “facts” becoming tomorrow’s jokes (cf. flat earthism). Moreover, although there may appear to be a general consensus within the scientific community, we should never equate consensus with knowledge. Nor should we suppose that any one particular scientist holds the same view as all other scientists, nor that those views have in all cases been arrived at by personal impartial examination of the primary evidence.

Although this is merely scraping the surface of the body of knowledge on dating methods, it too often appears that (for example) the geological method is used to confirm the radiocarbon method and vice versa. Such circular proof is no proof at all and certainly demands closer scrutiny. Furthermore, the fact that a particular dating method appears to hold good over a period of a few hundred years cannot give us an assurance that it can also hold true over many millennia. This gigantic extrapolation involves what I can only describe as a breathtaking leap of faith.

We know that the speed of light appears to be a constant and that we can observe stars that appear to be millions of light years away. The contemporary view of most astronomers would be that the light reaching us (from a supernova for example) shows us a picture millions of years old. To this, a young earth creationist might respond that the point of creation involved such a massive injection of divine power that these supernovae occurred rapidly, while the universe expanded rapidly (say to its present size within a matter of hours) making it appear as though those events occurred long ago.

It is clear to see that these widely differing viewpoints both rely on baseline assumptions: “today’s science has got it right” versus “the bible tells us that the earth is very young”.

For my own part, I hold neither view. It is not really an important question for me, since my faith is based on a personal relationship with someone who I know and whose influence on my life I have witnessed first hand. It is necessary for me to have source scriptures that are reliable, but I will be the first to admit that I do not always understand what they are saying and that they can easily be misinterpreted, not the least because we English speakers receive them by way of translation. That said, it was recently pointed out to me that there is a particular interpretation of Genesis that may shed some light on the apparent age discrepancy between science’s view and young earth creationism’s. Interestingly, it comes down in favour of science.

At the very beginning of the bible, we read that in the beginning, God created “the heavens” and “the earth”. The next verse has traditionally been translated “The earth was formless and empty” or words to that effect. But it can also validly be translated “the earth became formless and empty”, perhaps implying a cataclysmic event immediately preceding the “re-making” of the earth and the creation of man. Thus the universe could have pre-existed the creation story by an undefined period of time.

Additionally, note that in the first verse of Genesis 1 attention is fixed on “the heavens and the earth”, a Hebrew idiom for everything, i.e. the universe. But in verse 2, the focus of the narrative dramatically narrows to concentrate merely on earth and its immediate environs. This too may explain why there appears to be a discrepancy in timing.

In truth, no one knows the true age of the universe for sure. No one now living was present at the moment of creation, whether that was a Big Bang or some other impressive manifestation. We would do well to choke down our arrogance and admit that it is not possible to know all things beyond a shadow of doubt. Unless, of course, you’re God.

NASA Earth from Space image from gnews pics’, licensed under Creative Commons. Used with permission.