March 4, 2017, 1:02 p.m.
Many years ago, before cloud servers existed, I worked for an ISP. We were running Linux servers and we had way more problems with them than one would think possible. It seemed like every other month the servers would crash and we would lost most of the data on them. Back then we had a tape backup system, which seemed almost as failure prone as the servers, so when the crashes happened there was rarely any recoverable data.
As a result of that experience I am meticulous about always having my important data backed up. All my code is either on GitHub or BitBucket, so the only thing that exists only on my servers is my databases. A couple of months ago I decided I needed to have that data backed up regularly and after considering a few options I decided to back it up to Amazon S3. I wrote a two piece solution consisting of:
Since the PHP part was a command I could just call it from my shell script and schedule that as a cron job. Yesterday I decided to turn the Laravel piece of that into a package called escuccim/s3backup. The code was originally written specifically to upload my DB dumps to S3 and had most parameters hard-coded in, so I added a few options to the command and updated my shell script to pass them in.
The package currently only works for a single file at a time, as that is all I need it to do, but I may add support for directories at some point in the future. The package is available through packagist although to use it you currently need to specify version dev-master.
March 1, 2017, noon
Just today I used Laravel's Socialite package for the first time. It can handle Oauth requests for Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, GitHub and BitBucket - and it's much, much easier to use than it was doing it myself. When I was looking into using Oauth I found a Laravel package to integrate Oauth logins, but it was very complicated to use. It created about a dozen tables and I ended up abandoning it to write my own code for integrating with Google.
With Socialite all you do is put the Client ID and the Secret's into a config file and add two functions into your LoginController - one to handle the login attempt and one to handle the callback. The login function just directs the attempt to the appropriate provider:
And the callback function gets the information returned by the provider:
$user = Socialite::driver($provider)->user();
Feb. 28, 2017, 5:09 p.m.
As a result of figuring out what was going on with the session and the middleware yesterday I was able to rewrite my localization code and greatly simplify the whole project. Previously I had been calling a function to set the language in every single controller action that returned a view, I was able to eliminate all of that and consolidate everything in the middleware.
I made another package - escuccim/translate - that has two parts:
First is the middleware which does two things:
a. Checks the subdomain to see if the subdomain corresponds to a language. If so it sets the app locale to the appropriate language.
b. Checks to see if there is a session variable with the language in it, if so it sets the app locale accordingly.
The key for me here is that if there is a locale specified by both the subdomain and the session, the session takes precedence, thus allowing the user to display the page in whatever language they desire, irregardless of the subdomain.
The second component of the package is a route which accepts a locale as a parameter and sets a session variable to that locale, so that the middleware can then access that information.
I'm glad I took the time to investigate the session/middleware issues because figuring that out allowed me to replace code that was unneccessary and ugly to look at with a nice, simple, elegant solution.
Feb. 28, 2017, 5:06 p.m.
This election in the US has got me thinking a lot about democracy and how it works, or in this case, doesn't seem to work too well. I get the impression that people don't choose their candidates based on the candidate's policy positions matching their own, but the opposite - they choose their policies based on which candidate or political party they support. Well I just read this book, Democracy for Realists, by C. Achen and L. Bartels, which confirms my fears and goes far beyond that to totally demolish what they call the "folk theory of democracy" using statistics and facts.
What they refer to as the "folk theory of democracy" is basically what you are taught in school - that democracies are responsive to the will of the people and allow people to shape the policies and laws of the government; that the people decide what the government will do. By analyzing election results and other statistics, they take a number of theories about how democracies allow the people to express their will and test them, and find them all woefully lacking. It turns out that only one theory holds up, and that is that voters reward or punish their representatives based on the voters economic prosperity. But the voters are extremely myopic, only taking into account the few months prior to an election when casting their votes and disregarding the rest of the preceeding couple years.
The Founding Fathers of the US set up a representative democracy because they understood that the normal people wouldn't know enough about politics or policy to really make well-informed decisions. So instead of the people voting on the laws the people would elect representatives that they trust to vote on the laws. The representatives would devote their time to studying and debating the issues and would make well-informed decisions. However the Founding Fathers never anticipated the rise of political parties, which today are so firmly entrenched that most people don't even realize they were never part of the plan.
The folk theory says that people will choose their party based on their political ideology or policy preferences, but in reality it is just as often the other way - people will develop their policy preference based on their partisan identity. The authors go beyond this to say that the party affiliation is mostly based on a person's "social identity" and has little to nothing to do with their political ideology. The way the book describes it people choose their party affiliation based on the kind of person they consider themselves to be and the kind of people they think belong to the political party. As far as I can tell this is basically a fancy way of saying "peer pressure" - if your family is Republican and your friends are Republican you are likely to be a Republican even if you disagree with Republican policies. In fact, people will often either change their ideology to match their party's, or convince themselves that their party's ideology is closer to their own than it actually is.
Politics today has become so complex that it is nearly impossible for any normal working person to really understand or make well-informed decisions about all of the policies. In order to be able to handle issues this complex we need to simplify them greatly into mental models which unfortunately omit most of the detail and nuance. Instead of having to consider the myriad sides of an issue and the numerous approaches, we take the talking points that the political parties and the mass media give us and just accept and repeat them. It's a lot easier than having to gather massive amounts of information, sort through it, analyze it and come up with our own opinions. One theory is that political parties provide us with easy cues to figure out what our opinions would be if we had enough time and information for us to come up with them on our own, but this theory is also analyzed and largely debunked.
So if the results of elections have little to do with the policy positions of the candidates and the policy preferences of the voters, then what does drive the elections? Well it turns out it's largely random. Voters will reliably vote out the party in power if the economic wellbeing of the voter has decreased in the months before the election, and vote to keep the party in power if their economic wellbeing has increased just before the election. Voters will also vote out the party in power as a result of things beyond the power of any human to control like floods, droughts, and even shark attacks. But the policy preferences of voters really have little to no effect on elections, other than the fact that many people only develop their policy preferences based on adopting those of the party or candidate they support.
This isn't to say that democracy doesn't work at all, it just doesn't work in the way that it is supposed to work and the way I was taught that it works in school. Because politicians do have to be re-elected they must avoid the appearance of impropriety and appear as if they have the best interests of the people in mind. This at least prevents gross abuses that are typical in dictatorships. But as to whether the people really have much say in determing government policy, it would seem that the answer is no.
Personally I think that the party system in the US is a major factor in this. With only two parties dominating the government, they get their voters worked up about silly issues that aren't really all that important and then once they are in power they are largely indistinguishable, except that they keep their members constantly angry with the other party over these wedge issues which will never be addressed. The only people who really have a say in the government are the wealthy donors and corporations who fund the elections and pay the lobbyists. But that is a different book.
I'm sure this book will upset a lot of people because it challenges some basic assumptions people have about America and about democracy in America. People tend to accept facts that confirm the opinions they already have, and get upset when facts contradict their existing opinions. This book really makes you have to think about democracy and how it works and how it doesn't work. I think this is a book that everyone needs to read.