Getting Started With PHP

Getting started with PHP is a challenge just like any other programming language, but don’t let that stop you! There are plenty of resources for the experienced programmer looking for a technical solution, but they are too techey for the newbie just starting out. This post is a good place to start with PHP and lists some useful PHP resources to help you.

PHP is a powerful server-side scripting language for creating dynamic and interactive websites. Server side means that it runs on the server hosting the page, rather than the client or browser. PHP is widely used, partly because it is free, but mainly because it provides a fast and efficient alternative to competitors such as Microsoft’s ASP. It also supports database access easily and with much fewer lines of code than ASP. PHP is perfectly suited for Web development and can be embedded directly into the HTML code.

One place to start is the PHP manual, which unsurprisingly has a Getting Started section. My advice is to scan read as much of this as you can before attempting to start programming in PHP. It will explain what PHP is and can do, and then gives you a simple tutorial.

Click here to visit PHP manual

Another good place to start learning PHP is the PHP Tutorial on the w3schools website. This provides a complete references of all PHP functions and some user friendly cross links to functions that you may not even realise that you will need.

Click here to visit W3Schools PHP section

If you are new to PHP programming check out Getting started with PHP

Widgetizing Themes

We came across this really helpful resource on which tells you how to fix up your WordPress theme, and make it Widget ready. Widgets are now a standard part of the WordPress install so to reach the broadest audience all modern themes should support them, as well as supporting old style sidebars.

You need to know PHP, HTML mark-up and CSS to benefit from this resource, but if you are in to writing your own WordPress themes, then you probably are up to speed with these anyway. If not you will need to be, so why not get cracking now and learn?

Click here to learn how to Widgetize your WordPress theme

British plans for the world’s first 1,000mph car

British engineers have unveiled plans for the world’s first 1,000mph car, a muscular streak of gunmetal and orange designed not to break the world land speed record but to shatter it. The proposed car will attempt to beat the existing record by more than 250mph. The car called Bloodhound SSC, is named after the British cold war supersonic air defence missiles.

There is an official supporters’ Club for The BLOODHOUND Project with access to a members-only area of The BLOODHOUND Project website The club called the BLOODHOUND SSC 1K Club offers a chance to help the project, see the car being built and to meet the team, and for Gold members, an invitation to experience a UK run of the car. Contributions from supporters club members helped fund the Thrust SSC Project that went on to set the current Land Speed Record.

Check out the Bloodhound SSC website, or download the pdf leaflet

Book Reviews by John Weller

Windows XP – A survival guide
Kyle MacRae Published by Haynes £15.99 ISBN 1 84425 033 4
Computer Troubleshooting – The complete step-by-step guide to diagnosing and fixing common PC problems
Kyle MacRae Published by Haynes £15.99 ISBN 1 84425 019 9
Computer Manual – The step-by-step guide to upgrading, repairing and maintaining a PC
Kyle MacRae Published by Haynes £15.99 ISBN 1 84425 128 4
Build Your Own Computer – The complete step-by-step manual to constructing a PC that’s right for you
Kyle MacRae Published by Haynes £15.99 ISBN 1 84425 228 0

In the days of my impecunious youth I couldn’t afford a new car so had to buy used ones that were usually not in the first flush of youth. I certainly couldn’t afford garage servicing charges so had to be my own mechanic. The end result was that whenever I bought a fresh car the first purchase (often before I had arrived home with my new acquisition) was the appropriate Haynes manual, that essential guide for any DIY mechanic.

Haynes has now branched out into the field of computer manuals and I have recently been given the opportunity to review a number of them. As with the car manuals they follow a common format. They are slightly under A4 size with board covers printed in colour on good quality glossy paper. All are by the same author who is obviously a practical man and a pragmatist with a dry wit on occasion.

The first thing that struck me about them was how clear and easy to read the books are. They are all lavishly illustrated with screenshots, photographs and diagrams with clear step-by-instructions – exactly what I have come to expect from a Haynes manual. They are all aimed at reasonably practical users and do not contain jokey cartoons or patronising text that assumes you are a dummy or an idiot. Above all they are written in English for the UK market as opposed to being written in American for the US.

Windows XP – A survival guide

The first section takes up just under a quarter of the book and assumes that you are upgrading a PC from a previous version of Windows to XP. It explains very clearly the first choices to be made – Full Version or Upgrade, Home or Professional, Over-the-Top upgrade or Clean Install. In each case the relative merits of each option are explained and the choice left to the reader. The setup process is then covered for both the over-the-top and clean install options with lots of screenshots. Each option offered by the setup process, such as whether to go for FAT32 or NTFS, is explained and the pros and cons of each option explained. (I wish I’d had this book available when I first installed XP!)

The remaining three-quarters of the book covers Windows Explorer, Internet Connection, Setting up a Network, User Accounts, Sharing and Security plus Instant Messaging including application sharing, whiteboards and remote assistance. In every case there is a clear and detailed explanation with plenty of screenshots.

The book is aimed at a reasonably competent user upgrading to XP, either by upgrading an existing machine or with a new PC. Serious techies who want to get ‘under the bonnet’ of XP will need to look elsewhere as would a complete newcomer to Windows – this book is not for them but I have no hesitation in recommending this book as excellent value for money for anyone who is upgrading to XP.

Computer Troubleshooting

It does just what it says on the tin! This book is a clear, well-illustrated step-by-step guide to identifying and fixing the most common problems with both the operating system and the hardware. It is heavily biased towards XP but does include references to earlier versions of Windows. The author is not one of those who are completely in Microsoft’s thrall and has obviously suffered the same frustrations with Windows error messages as the rest of us.

This is the sort of book that is well worth buying and placing on the bookshelf in the hopes that you will never need it – but PCs being what they are you almost certainly will. At £15.99 (£10.55 from Amazon) it is significantly cheaper and quicker than visiting the local PC repair shop.

Having helped you identify the problem area it does not go into great detail on how to fix the problem if it is hardware – which is where the next book comes in.

Computer Manual

This book concentrates on upgrading rather than repair, which is very reasonable as, sensibly, the only way to repair a PC is to replace a component and if the component is more than a few months old then it will have improved performance and effectively be an upgrade.

The book covers upgrading or replacing hard drives, CD/DVD recorders, expansion cards, monitors, printers, scanners plus keyboard and mouse. It also looks at the now popular multi function devices – combined printer, scanner and fax. There is a section on setting up a simple home network and another on maintaining a PC using third party software as well as the built in utilities.

The author’s approach is very pragmatic – in fact the first section is Why Upgrade? As far as he is concerned the only acceptable answer is to improve performance, replace a broken component or add new features. The book is neatly summed up by a sentence in the book: ‘This is the manual for people who can use a screwdriver but not a soldering iron; people who won’t throw good money after bad but don’t want to buy a new computer unless and until they absolutely have to; and people who are allergic to acronyms.’ If you match that description then this is definitely the book for you.

Build Your Own Computer

Once again a clear, well illustrated step-by-step guide to building your own computer. The author starts by pointing out that building a PC from scratch is not going to save a significant amount of money – if any, but can be very satisfying and will also ensure that you build the machine that you need not what some manufacture thought you might need. It also means that you are well equipped to troubleshoot any problems you may get at a later stage.

The book covers two projects: a standard tower PC and a smart smaller computer designed for gaming or home entertainment. The first section covers sourcing the components and discusses using new and used equipment including going to computer fairs and obtaining B-grade stock.

The various options in each area are discussed and guidance given based on the user’s requirements, eg word processing and video making have significantly different requirements in the processor and RAM areas. There are separate sections, where appropriate, on using Intel and AMD processors. Obviously the book gets very technical but all of the acronyms and jargon are explained in a clear and readable manner.

If you fancy building your own PC this book is a must.

John Weller

John Weller is a Fellow of the Institution of Analysts and Programmers, and a Council member.  You can contact John through the Institution, and purchase books at substantial discounts through the IAP Bookstore
These reviews first appeared in the Visual Software Journal

Help End Leprosy Now!

A new site has been launched to help in the fight to end Leprosy. It is called End Leprosy Now!

Public ignorance and fear mean that attitudes towards former Leprosy sufferers and those close to them remain unchanged; they are excluded from schools and workplaces, unable to find or keep marriage partners, and widely shunned by communities. Many are disabled, most are forced into poverty. There is no other illness whose sufferers continue to face such stigmatisation even after they have been cured.

25 January 2009 has been designated World Leprosy Day. This site has been initiated now, in the lead up to World Leprosy Day 2009, to revitalise and reenergise the efforts to eradicate this disfiguring disease. Why not visit End Leprosy Now and see if you can help.

Click here to visit and help End Leprosy Now!