• 2013-06-25 12:00:00

    Voting for Phalcon as a cPanel feature woes

    Those that have been following my blog and posts on Google+ know that for the last year or so I have been involved heavily in PhalconPHP, a C based PHP framework, which delivers its functionality as an extension loaded on the web server.

    I was honored a few months ago when I became a member of the Phalcon Team and have since tried my best to evangelize Phalcon and to help as much as possible with scheduling NFRs for development, helping in the forum, unit tests, blog posts etc.

    One of the most difficult issues that Phalcon is facing is helping developers installing it on their machines. This of course does not mean that it is really difficult to install. The installation is basically three commands (or if you are on a Windows box you just download the DLL, add the relevant directive in the php.ini and restart the web server).

    However since a lot of people are using shared hosting, they do not have access to the command line where sudo or su are available so that that Phalcon can be installed. This is left to the hosting company and some are very reluctant to install anything at all. I used to own a hosting company and I can assure you that it is indeed a hassle if a handful of clients ask for a library or an installation that is not part of the "norm". You have to maintain it, you have to ensure that it will not interfere with other packages on the server or hinder other clients that reside on the same hosting box.

    A few months ago I approached cPanel through their ticketing system, in an effort to make Phalcon an option for the extensions that can be installed and loaded through their EasyApache application.

    At the time I was granted a development account for the software so that I can try and create an installation script and also was prompted to go to http://features.cpanel.net/ and open a new feature request regarding this (the request is here). The purpose of this exercise is for cPanel to get a feel of what features the community needs and address them. In my communications with them I received the following (emphasis mine):

    Our EasyApache has multiple locations to add includes, or post hooks to compile third party libraries/software during a build, or after a build has completed. That being said, the extensions that we ship to be configured are maintained by the PHP & PECL groups. To answer the question as far as integration on all servers running cPanel, I would recommend creating a feature request for this, and allowing the community to vote for this:

    http://features.cpanel.net/

    And so I did. I created the feature request and we also advertised this in our community via our forum and our blog post.

    The feature received well over 180 votes, making it the third most requested feature in cPanel. Also if you follow the link, one of the engineers of cPanel requested additional information which was provided by myself and others.

    As time went by, I visited the feature and requested an update but never got a reply back. More and more votes kept on coming in so it was really a waiting game at that time.

    All of a sudden though a week ago, one of our users in the forum asked in our Forum why the feature request in cPanel has only 7 votes. This came to us as a surprise so I went and checked it out. Lo and behold the vote counter was at 7 and not at 180+. Assuming that this was some sort of a glitch, I opened a ticket with cPanel and inquired about this.

    A short time later I received a reply from a Vice President of Operations stating (emphasis mine):

    Our feature request system was designed for features requests from our customers and in reviewing this feature it was determined that most (if not all of the votes) came from an outside source. In an effort to validate this we polled a number of shared hosting providers that we work closely with and this was not a feature they wanted.

    We traced most of the votes down to this single source:

    https://blog.phalconphp.com/post/help-the-community-to-make-phalcon-available-on-cpanel

    While cPanel wants feedback from the general community, our focus is to deliver new features that our Partners and customers are asking for.

    We always appreciate community support and will keep an eye on this feature. Decisions for new features are made by both reviewing this feature request system and talking with Partners and customers. To date out of about 15 conversations, not a single Partner or customer told us this was something that was important to them and thus we adjusted the votes to what we felt was more in line with the community using our system.

    I have a couple of issues with the above reply.

    • For starters there was no communication and no warning that would have indicated what was going to happen with our votes. cPanel decided on this on their own. They do have the right to do so, it's their software after all, but a little courtesy would have gone a long way.
    • The definition of "customers" is different to me than it is to cPanel. As customers cPanel defines their partners and hosting companies, the ones that purchase their software. Myself on the other hand considers customers also the end user, me and you who visit a hosting company and purchase services from them. If we do not exist, then a hosting company and subsequently cPanel does not exist either.
    • cPanel asked a number of their partners who have not heard of Phalcon before, and as such they acted based on that premise. What would have happened if their sample was a different one? Say they asked partner X instead of partner Y? The bias of statistics is based on the sample one chooses and at times (such as this one) it could lead to false results.

    In my reply I pointed out the above, stating that a customer should effectively be the end user and if not, at least their voice should be heard. The reply that I got was as follows:

    Thanks for the reply and understanding. In reviewing the votes that came in, most appeared to be brand advocates of Phalcon and it was very difficult to discern the legitimacy of the votes. Had the votes come from active users of forums.cpanel.net (where most of the users originate from) or we were able to relate them back to some sort of hosting entity, we would have left the votes.

    From the outside looking in the votes just appeared to come from Phalcon users without ties to cPanel & WHM. What I would encourage you to do is the following:

    • Have your users ask their hosting provider about it.
    • Remove the blog links and tweets and allow the feature to grow it's own set of wheels.

    If this feature is truly in high demand from customers of cPanel, Inc. they will naturally vote for it.

    We do appreciate your support and ongoing efforts to get this in front of us. The massive amounts of votes and comments it received, put it on our developers radars and we will continue to monitor the situation.

    So in essence, if we want to achieve our objective, i.e. get Phalcon as an available extension for cPanel, we need to advise the community (but be careful to Remove the blog links and tweets and allow the feature to grow it's own set of wheels.) to contact their hosting companies (that use cPanel) to in turn contact cPanel and request Phalcon to be included as an extension.

    The fallacy of the above is that developers of Phalcon will not choose hosts that offer cPanel because they cannot install the application. If they cannot install the application they will not use hosts that offer cPanel, thus they cannot ask their hosts to include Phalcon as a cPanel extension, and so goes the chicken and egg situation.

    I totally respect cPanel's decisions - I don't agree with them but I do respect them. It's their house their rules as they say. I am however saddened by the fact that we never got any communication or warning that our votes were removed. A bit of communication there would have definitely saved a lot of frustration at least for our community.

    Concluding, if anyone has a cPanel hosting account and wants to see Phalcon available as an extension, feel free to contact your host and request it to be included as an available extension.

    2013-07-25 Update: A great analogy and reply has been posted by Andres in the Phalcon Forum.

  • 2010-03-31 09:19:00

    Online Privacy, Spam, Buzz, Banks and Mail

    Electronic Presence

    Everyone more or less has some sort of electronic presence. That presence can easily be seen on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, personal blog etc.

    What most people neglect to realize that this is only the tip of the iceberg. How about the information your bank stores about you? Isn't that an electronic/online presence? Some server contains vital information about you and your bank uses that information to identify you against someone else. If your bank provides online banking, then the Internet becomes the interface that you use to access your own personal information (mainly funds) which again is stored somewhere else.

    The same happens when you purchase something online. Say you want to purchase flowers for your loved one. You will be probably asked to create an account with the florists's website and you will need to provide payment for the flowers. The authenticator, in this case, is some company that will check your credit card against an online record (again stored somewhere) in order to authorize the payment.

    Google Buzz

    With this in mind, I have been wondering lately why all of a sudden everyone seems to be trying to stab Google, due to some mishaps with Buzz? Were the controls that Buzz had initially set correctly? You might say no here and I would have to respectfully disagree. The point is that there was the option for people to opt out, the terms of service were there for everyone to read (I am wondering who did if any) so why was something set incorrectly? Why complain if the information was available for everyone to make an intelligent and educated choice as to use the new tool or not? If you did not investigate and read all there is to it regarding Buzz then you are responsible for anything that comes with it.

    I hear already people screaming at me that this was supposed to be an opt-in not an opt-out service. I agree and disagree there. Allow me to elaborate.

    For starters Google offers Buzz (and GMail) for free. How come all of a sudden this free product (which mind you is of extremely high quality) became everyone's right and stopped being a privilege? Yeah sure, Google runs ads and displays them on the right side of your GMail. That is how they offset their costs. Is anything wrong with that? I don't think so. Yet you have people that try to download special extensions to block ads, they change their signature to contain certain keywords that Google has deemed inappropriate - in short endangering everyone's use of GMail because if it turns out to be totally not profitable for Google they will simply close down the service or start charging for it. If that happens the first people that will complain are going to be the ones that caused this i.e. the ones that were blocking ads.

    Everyone complained about Buzz. It was not secure enough, it exposed personal information etc. If you looked closely, the choice to opt out was available. People will argue that it was not the default value but that is not the point. The option was available (and still is) and people should start reading what they sign up to. Terms and conditions exist for a reason and people should start reading that stuff and exploring the options/settings prior to signing up to something!

    My Financial Institution

    A few days ago I got a letter from Flagstar Bank, which is (was) my mortgage bank. It appears that they sold my mortgage to EverHome (just another mortgage company). This is a really common practice over the course of a mortgage. Thus far (6 months into my mortgage), I have changed 3 companies. I would be interested to see what will happen in the course of 30 years :).

    After receiving this notice from Flagstar Bank, I got a new letter from EverHome with some interesting information. The most interesting part of this documentation was the Privacy policy of EverHome. Here is what is in store for me (emphasis mine):

    Do we disclose your information to non-affiliated third parties?

    We may disclose all of the information about you, as described above, to certain people, subject to legal restrictions, and subject to your right to ask us not to share your information. Your right to ask us not to disclose your information is referred to as your "Opt-Out Rights" and is more fully described below.

    To what non-affiliated parties do we disclose your information?

    Subject to your Opt-Out Rights described below, we may disclose your nonpublic personal information to the following types of third parties:

    • Financial service providers, such as banks, mortgage companies, mortgage brokers, consumer credit companies, investment advisors and similar companies;
    • Insurance providers, such as life insurance companies, credit insurance companies, hazard insurance companies, automobile insurance companies; and<
    • Other optional service providers and organizations.

    Even if you opt-out of information sharing, we will still share information about you with certain third parties as permitted by law or regulation. This may include but not limited to, disclosing information:

    • To parties assisting in servicing or processing of your loan;
    • To our lawyers, accountants, auditors, regulators and advisors;
    • To protect our rights relating to, and the security of, your loan, our website, or our telephone customer service center;
    • To verify the existence or status of your loan for a third party;
    • To companies that perform marketing services on our behalf, or jointly with us;
    • To other financial institutions with whom we have joint marketing agreements; and
    • When you ask or give us permission to do so.

    Do we share your information with our affiliates?

    We are affiliated with several types of companies including but not limited to other financial service , such as banks, mortgage companies, and title insurance agents. Even if you exercise your Opt-Out Rights, we may share with our affiliates information about our direct transactions and experiences with you.

    Subject to your Opt-Out Rights, we may share information about you obtained from third parties with our affiliates, including:

    • Information from your application, such as your age, gender, marital status, number of dependents, assets, debts, income, employment information, address and the address of the property securing your loan;
    • Information from a consumer report, including information about your credit worthiness, financial circumstances, and credit history, including any bankruptcies or foreclosures;
    • Information to verify representations made by you, such as verification of your income, employment, and open lines of credit with others; and
    • Information from a person about his or her employment, credit, or other relationship with you, such as your employment history with your employer, or credit history with another financial institution.

    How can you Opt-Out?

    If you do not want us to disclose nonpublic personal information about you to non affiliated third parties, or if you want to limit the nonpublic personal information we may disclose to our affiliates, you may Opt-Out Please remember that even if you choose to opt-out, we will still disclose information about you as permitted by law or regulation.

    From what I have heard from friends, this is pretty much standard text for almost every mortgage company. Let's have a look a bit on a couple of interesting points and how that relates to Google and Buzz.

    • This is not the initial mortgage company. I did not allow them to do anything with my personal information. My initial mortgage company had a clause that basically said "we are allowed to sell your mortgage and with it your information". So I am stuck. This new company has my personal information (vital information such as my SSN, information about my previous employment, account balances and possibly account numbers, name, credit cards, in short everything). Did my old mortgage company delete my records from their systems? Most probably no. So here I am having 2 records out there without having to lift a finger. Did the introduction of Buzz create a brand new record of all of your personal information and disclosed it/forwarded it to a brand new company?
    • This is an Opt-Out policy. Wait a minute!!! Why don't I see a revolution, people running on the streets of major cities with signs, crying and condemning EverHome for such sacrilege, sending thousands of tweets, blogging about it... condemning the company and associating them with the devil? EverHome has hundreds of thousands of customers. I never heard any complain about this! How many of those customers have GMail accounts? Chances are quite a few. How many complained about Buzz? Probably a significant number. Did they also complain to EverHome? Did they blog about it or tweet about it?
    • If you carefully read the above, you will see that my whole life, all the vital information about me, can be transmitted to various other companies so long as they are affiliated to EverHome. Do I have a saying in this? Not really. The last paragraph clearly states that even if I Opt-Out, they will release my information under certain circumstances "Please remember that even if you choose to opt-out, we will still disclose information about you as permiited by law or regulation."

    Who else does Opt-Out?

    This post is not to bad mouth or disgrace EverHome. Far from it. This post is to condemn hypocrisy. I have read many blogs from people condemning Google for their Opt-Out policy in Buzz - whereas it should have been Opt-In. Yeah fine, I agree to that. But then again, less than a month later Google changed their policy to an Opt-In, introduced more alerts, controls and visual effects to ensure that the user wants to Opt-In. That is Google.

    Where are the blog posts complaining about the Opt-Out policies that other companies that we use their services on a daily basis? Did anyone bother to read the terms and conditions of say Verizon, AT&T for your cellphone, Satellite service (Dish/DirecTV) etc.? I dare you to check your paperwork; you will be shocked to find that almost everyone uses the Opt-Out approach and not the Opt-In.

    Regular Mail

    Consider also your regular mail. Whatever the postman brings. How much junk do you really get in your mailbox, just because you got a store card, ordered once from a website and now you cannot get them to stop? My wife got a gift certificate once for a motorbike accessory store for our cousin and since then we receive this really nice magazine concerning motorbikes. We returned it rejected more than 5 times but they do not get the hint. Did we ask for it? No. Do they have the right to do that? No, but they do not care. Did anyone complain about all this? Not as much as they complained about Buzz....

    Conclusion

    Google is not the devil. I do believe that they adhere by the "Don't be evil" motto. I use their products and I am happy that I do because the quality of products offered help me do my job better. Do I read all the disclaimers and terms and conditions? Yes I do and if there is something I do not like I do not use it. If I click 'I accept the Terms' then I have no right to complain for something that was there and I did not read it or pay attention to it. If you don't like them, don't like their policies, do not use their products. Export your data from GMail (since Google adheres to the Data Liberation principles) to your computer or a different provider, delete your Google Account and stop complaining. There is a difference between making suggestions towards making a product better and bitching about something that is mostly your fault (i.e. reading Terms and Conditions and checking settings).

    I always remind myself that the free Google services are a privilege to me and not my right. Shouldn't you do the same if using those same free products?

    Rant on!

  • 2009-11-07 12:00:00

    Ultimate Incompetence #2

    Further to my previous post Ultimate Incompetence..., it has been a week or so since we contacted the DMV so as to have the suspension lifted from my wife's non existent (for a year now) VA drivers license. We were promised that the information will be sent in the mail and that we will have to act when we receive it.

    Luckily we are vigilant about these things - especially deadlines - and we followed up with the DMV yesterday. To our surprise the lady that my wife talked to yesterday was a hundred times more helpful that the previous one. From what my wife tells me, the lady yesterday did not sound bored and was not dragging her words, was very knowledgeable and did indeed help us with our problem.

    It appears that we did not have to wait for any documentation from the DMV in the mail. The lady yesterday told my wife that she can fax the relevant documentation to my wife, then my wife can pay over the phone and all the relevant information (suspension lift, receipt of payment etc.) can be faxed back to my wife. The whole process taking less than the phone call last week.

    Sure enough, 15 minutes later I got an email with the scanned receipt of payment as well as the statement notifying all interested parties that my wife no longer has a suspension on her VA license.

    I am really appalled by the laziness of certain people. I will give the benefit of the doubt to the lady that my wife spoke to originally (a week or so ago) for not knowing. I somehow do not thing that this was the case. From what it sounded like, the information we received was filled with boredom and the attitude leave me alone I just want to stay here, get paid and do nothing.

    It is sad to see this kind of attitude in organizations throughout the US. I have lived the first half of my life in Greece and have seen bureaucracy at its best – aka if you don't know someone to do you a favor you won't get far. Lazy people or people that do not take pride in their work and do not do it well, hurt us all. They waste their time, our country's money (and I am using me as part of the US since it is my home for the last three years) and more importantly yours and my time.

    Is there a solution to this problem? I do not know. What I do know though is that if you don't get anywhere or you are met with unhelpful people, it is always best to escalate the matter and talk to the supervisor or the supervisor's supervisor. If all fails, a letter (having things in writing always draws attention) to the higher management might get some heads turned.

    You or me alone might end up with zero effect to the problem. If however, everyone starts doing this, then we will definitely get attention AND we will start getting better service or the service we are entitled to. Soon enough there won't be any room for lazy people, since employers will no longer tolerate attitudes – their customers (us) will demand more.

    /0.02 USD

    PS: When we checked our credit card transaction log, the charge was $93.00 instead of $85.00. It appears that the DMV charges a $8.00 convenience fee for credit card processing. I am wondering who's convenience because it definitely is not mine...

  • 2009-11-06 12:00:00

    Ultimate Incompetence

    This post has nothing to do with programming or the world of computers.

    Despite the fact that I was really happy today to receive two new books that I ordered in the mail regarding eXtreme Programming and Test Driven Development (TDD) the day was not short of frustration.

    I got a call before noon from the lady that handles our insurance (home and auto) who told me that we cannot be insured since my wife's driving license was suspended in Virginia.

    A bit of background here: My wife and I used to live in Virginia, but moved to Maryland on November 2008. When we moved we went to the MVA and changed our driving licenses (and surrendered the Virginia ones) as well as the tags of both our cars. We assumed the matter to be closed but we were wrong...

    It appears that Virginia is either too desperate for money or has ultimately incompetent people working in the DMV. Ultimate incompetence comes from the fact that they cannot receive information from a neighboring state (Maryland in this case) that Nikos no longer lives in your state and cancel his driving license because he has a new one. Desperate for money comes from the fact that the incompetent people do not update records and expect you to contact them to let them know that you left the state - and then they will update the records.

    So despite the fact that we have surrendered our licenses and changed tags in our cars (let alone move out of Virginia) a bit shy of a year ago, Virginia claimed that they don't know anything and they suspended my wife's license.

    This results in us not being able to renew our insurance since no underwriter will insure anyone who has a suspended license in any state.

    When we called the DMV today (and after waiting for 26 minutes) the indifferent employee that managed to get of her butt to answer the phone basically said 'we don't care it's your responsibility to contact us'. I am not going to dispute the fact that this information is available in documents that the DMV produces or the title of our vehicles. What really annoys me is that the MVA did forward our driving licenses to the DMV and they did know that we no longer live in Virgina. How do I come to this conclusion? Nothing happened to me. My license is clean, no suspensions, nothing. Why my wife then? I didn't inform them either if they want to stick by the letter of the law. Don't get me wrong - I am not begging to be charged $85.00 (this is how much the DMV wants to lift the suspension - see my earlier comment about 'desperate for money') but if you are upholding the law, you should uphold it for everyone.

    So the long story short, we will need to wait for them to send us documentation which will arrive God knows when, pay the $85.00, wait until the DMV employees decide to actually work for a change and have the suspension lifted so that we can be insured. Now the good thing is that our insurer gave us a lead time of 50 days but I want to get this over with as soon as possible.

    I have mentioned in this post that the DMV has incompetent people and hinted that they are lazy. From personal experience - that is 100% true. Nobody should have to go through what I did to get a driver's license (in Virginia that is). Have you ever heard of someone going to the DMV for 5 days straight only to be asked to bring a different document every time and to finally discover that all the initial documents were in perfect order. That along with the fact that I had to take the exam for the signs twice (since they did not bother to record my test results the first time around) allows me to say without a shed of doubt that there are really lazy and incompetent people working in the DMV. The branch that I am referring to is the one which is close to Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. Those that have gone in that branch know exactly what I am talking about.

    Anyhow, the venting is off. Lessons learned?

    • Read always carefully what people give you
    • Don't try to get a license in Virginia :)

  • 2009-11-01 12:00:00

    Annoyed

    Nowadays we are all about gadgets. My new printer, my new digital camera, my ability to connect my phone with my PC etc. As a consumer society we tend to buy stuff that we do not need or hardly ever use. I of course am no exception to this rule. I have tons of junk which are either replaced by newer models - and I didn’t have to replace them - or just obsolete items.

    What I am annoyed though is that although technology concerning peripherals is moving quite fast, the vendors themselves live in a prehistoric age and make the deadly wrong assumption that there is only one operating system in the world.

    Yes I am talking about Windows and the refusal of vendors to release drivers or software for their products for use in other operating systems.

    When I bought my Ferrari Acer 3000 it came with Windows XP Home Edition. I duly did not accept the Agreement Microsoft plastered all over the screen, took the manual and the CD and sent it back to them for a refund - which they have sent me. I chose to install Gentoo Linux on that laptop to have it as my little baby and play around. The initial obstacles arrived with the WiFi. It appears that Broadcom (the vendor of the WiFi device) claims that they cannot release the code for their drivers as open source since it violates an agreement they have with some US Government Organization/Agency. Fair enough we do not want you to release the source code. Release drivers for Linux then. Official ones, supported by Broadcom. If Broadcom or any other vendor has the resources to write Windows drivers, some of those resources can easily be targeted to the Linux community. Luckily the ingenuity of some people on the internet allowed the use of the Windows drivers in Linux with a package called ndiswrapper.

    Today I went to buy a new camera. Not that I didn’t have one (see first paragraph of this post) but I thought I might take one with a better resolution. Again… no Linux drivers. Why is that? Why are there drivers for almost all flavors of Windows and not for Linux? Granted that throughout the world there are more users that use a Windows distribution than Linux or MacOS. However the gap between Windows and Linux is decreasing every year. How many years must we wait until the vendors start releasing Linux drivers and software for their products I wonder. Notable that of all the cameras I saw today, only one (a Phillips) was giving software and drivers for MacOS.

    As far as drivers are concerned we all have to rely on the efforts of Mr. or Mrs. John Doe, an anonymous student or individual who knows a bit of programming and creates a project to make his/her hardware work while at the same time help others that have the same problem.

    Compared to just a year ago, the problem of missing Linux drivers for particular hardware peripherals has gotten better. But peripherals like TV cards and card readers can still present problems. Oliver Diedrich, "c't. magazine"

    I do hope this situation changes in the near future. It is a shame why users would not choose Linux because the hardware they own is not supported…

    Now let me get back to work...