Archives For Projects

These are some of the projects I have worked on or am currently working on.

My last blog post was over 6 months ago, so I think I’m technically way past due for a new post. In this post I wanted to take a tour through the new functionality in Magento 1.9.1 with regards to sending emails from your store.

The astute among you will have noticed there were some changes to email in Magento 1.9.1 from the Magento 1.9.1 release notes. Two things jump out as requiring further investigation:

  1. “all Magento e-mails (including order confirmation and transactional) are now queued and sent according to your configured cron schedule”
  2. “boasts responsive default email templates so customers can read your order confirmation emails and newsletters on any device”

The first change sounds worrying to me, after years of emails from merchants struggling to get their Magento store to send emails – anything which makes it _harder_ seems like a bad idea to me. However, we’ll look through the changes and see what’s new.

The second change sounds really good – I was tinkering on a responsive email extension myself, so it’s pleasing to see it has already become core functionality. I’ll take a look through the template changes, and how they affect your store in the second part of this blog post series.

Using cron to send Magento Emails

Magento email sending all boils down to the Template class Mage_Core_Model_Email_Template, you can see below the change for queuing has been to introduce a check for an available queue in the template class, and if available to enqueue the message with all of it’s data and return immediately.
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I spent considerable effort writing the user guide for MageSend and have been happy with the results. I think of a well written user guide as the fence-at-the-top-of-the-cliff that prevents the support email burden ambulance-at-the-bottom. It’s been a source of fairly regular positive feedback from customers, so I wanted to share how I created it, and how I ensure it’s seamlessly integrated with the packaging process by build script. In this post I will run through how I use Google Docs as a documentation tool for my premium MageSend email extension, and take advantage of the publish URLs in build scripts to ensure the latest version of the User Guide is packaged in both PDF and HTML format with each release. I will say I only have one premium extension (currently) and am relatively new to this game, so it’s entirely possible there’s much better ways to do this, in fact if someone has some better suggestions I’d love to hear them!

MageSend Documentation

Writing Software Documentation in Google Docs

In order to even go down this route you have to be comfortable using Google Docs for writing technical documentation. I’ve been using Google Docs for as long as I can remember, when weighing options like markdown, plain-html or Latex I had no hesitation with Google and understood the limitations, and advantages of Goole Docs, summarised below.

  • + Collaborative editing, e.g graphics designers can add logos and screenshots into the same document as you edit the words
  • + Always saved, revision history available for change tracking
  • + Simple UI for editing documents, provided you keep your style very simple.
  • – You have to get into bed with Google – it’s not a complete lock-in though, you can export plain (but ugly) HTML.
  • – Annoying export bug with published docs table of contents linking to the web version.

So it’s a simple, easy to use document editing tool, with a number of modern features for collaboration and exporting, but a few annoying bugs, and slight pangs of vendor lock-in.
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I’ve made a few changes to the way the monitor works in the hope that it will reduce the load on the app and thus the cost based on the new App Engine pricing. There are three implications you should be aware of if you use the monitor.

1) ‘Up’ emails are not sent anymore.
You’ll just have to trust the site is being checked, without the email confirmation.

2) Checking will be 24 times per day, roughly one hour apart
I’ve changed the way the monitoring queue works, so that the sites will be not be dequeued concurrently, and so checked more slowly. However they should all get checked every hour, approximately one hour apart. Failed sites get checked 2 further times to make sure they’re really down, these rechecks will happen almost straight away.

3) If your site is down for 96 consecutive checks (about 4 days) it will no longer be checked.
This is to stop sending endless emails for weeks when a site is taken offline.

Hopefully these changes will keep the monitor running for free from here on out.

A long long time ago I wrote a simple little monitoring service on Google App Engine. It’s been happily ticking over for the last couple of years but with the recent changes to Google’s App Engine pricing, I’m going to have to make some changes.

This is a blog post for those who do use the service (there’s over 100 of you!) and may care about whether it is still monitoring your site. I sent this email to you all (sorry for the spam!) and will make any further updates on this site to save your inbox tears.

Hi, All

I’m Ashley, I made the website monitoring service you signed up for
here: http://monitor.aschroder.com/ – if you no longer use it, or
don’t care, please delete this email – I won’t be sending any more.

If you’re still with us so far, firstly sorry to spam all of you, but
there’s been some important changes by Google in the way they price
the App Engine platform, and apps like this monitor service, are not
free any more.

I’ll do my best to do a quick rewrite of the monitor in a way that can
keep the running costs at zero, but if I can’t, I’m going to have to
shut it down. If that does happen, I’ll gladly open source the code,
so that you can all run your own version of it, on your own app engine
accounts.

As promised I won’t email any of you about this again, I know how
annoying emails like this are. If you use and care about the service
working, subscribe at http://www.aschroder.com for updates on the
future of the monitor, and the code if/when it is open-sourced.

Any questions, please just ask me.

Kind regards,
Ashley
aschroder.com

So either there’ll be an update about what the new service does and does not do, or there’ll be some code so you can run it yourself. D-Day is Nov 7.

I will just say, I’m still a big fan of App Engine, despite the changes – it’ll remain my platform of choice for future projects until something better comes along.

I just uploaded Tweet Beeper to Google App Engine. It’s a simple application that receives an email, and then converts the subject line into a twitter direct message (which in turn can be an SMS sent to the recipients phone). A little whimsical, I know, but the weather was fairly average here this weekend!

TweetBeeper in 1 Minute

How do I use it? Easy!

  1. Follow @TweetBeeper on Twitter.
  2. Send a subject-line email to:
    your-twitter-id [at] tweetbeeper.appspotmail.com

What can it do?

  1. Cron Job Output to Direct Messages
  2. Webstore monitor failures to SMS
  3. Magento Sale notification emails (or any store)
  4. … and any other situations where email to SMS would be handy

TweetBeeper.com - Email to twitter Direct Message service

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