E-Paper Enters Mainstream

Damn it. I was *this close* to mentioning supermarket labels as a potential application for e-paper to displace this year in my New Years prediction post. I thought about its application, and wondered if we’d see a major chain like Walmart take it up, but in the end, I decided that the low cost of plastic labels wouldn’t make it worthwhile as a test-run.

Alas, one of my predictions, although a little off, has come true. It even exceeds my expectations! From the article:

The tags will include price info, along with extra data like place of origin and a sell-by date. Supermarkets will be able to update tags wirelessly from a central computer, and thanks to the battery sipping technology of e-ink, the batteries should last up to five years on each tag

Note, each e-tag has a wholesale cost of $16-19, so I wasn’t that far off when I concluded there was too large of a price gap to justify the switch. Of course, I forgot to factor in savings in wages, which will be huge over the life time of a single battery. Imagine this: prices could reflect a sale instantly across the entire store without a single employee having to lift a finger. Wireless updating… clever.

The future is bright for e-paper. Keep an eye on it.

The Best PHP Book Out There

Advanced PHP Programming I’ve read quite a few PHP books, and most of them suck. Many of them contain the same or very similar material recycled with new examples. Only one stands out in my mind as truly exceptional: Advanced PHP Programming. I am willing to bet this is the best book out there for novice to advanced PHP developers. It is not the best beginner book as it has some advanced topics (as the title suggests), but the material it covers is seldom mentioned in any detail in other books.

The book is an excellent resource for novice programmers hoping to become “experts” in the field. Granted, the coverage in the book is a little superficial in some places, but it serves as an excellent introduction to advanced concepts. These concepts played a major role in my understanding of scaling PHP applications.

After developing PHP for nearly a year by the time I had read the book, I remember thinking how much time the book would have saved me had I read it earlier. Many of the lessons the book mentions are things novice programmers learn from trial and error or from tons of Googling.

The book most notably covers some very common problems a PHP developer unexpectedly faces at some point in their career:

  • Session management, especially when integrated with a database back end
  • Common security misconceptions
  • A real database abstraction layer layer (warning: difficult example for beginners)

It also covers some of the new features of PHP 5, which is still foreign and underused by many:

  • Exception handling
  • Object oriented development (with some best-practices included!)

Personally, and this is strictly personal, I feel very much more confident in a developer’s ability when I see her/she is able to write clean, object oriented code that uses exception handling. This is very common in C++ or Java, but is relatively uncommon in PHP. In general, these are good programming practices.

It’s been a few years since I first picked up that book, and even today, sometimes I skim through it and think, “Oh, I forgot about that!” The book was the single greatest investment I ever made in my PHP skills. I’ve recommended this book to every novice PHP developer I’ve ever met.

If you know PHP, but want to know PHP, buy this book. It’s the gateway drug into an advanced PHP programming high.

I find my analogy funny.