Avishkar Autar · Aug 27 2010 · Web Technologies
hotspotdot is my entry into Microsoft’s My App is Better Challenge. In a nutshell, hotspotdot allows you to locate and tag “hot spots” that are important to you, allowing you to create a personal database of hot spots.
It’s a very simple app, utilizing PHP, SQL Server 2008, jQuery, jQuery UI, and the Google Maps API. I wrapped thing up in under 2 weeks, but in order to make the August 25th deadline there were a few features I didn’t get a chance to put in, such as preloaders, icons on the map, and searching by tag. I’ll probably devote some time to these in the coming weeks.
The goal of the contest was to create something showing off the power of SQL Server and Microsoft’s new PHP for SQL Server 2.0 drivers. I used the new PDO driver which was pretty sweet – very simple, elegant API. Two things in particular that impressed me were transactions (very nice for doing multiple inserts or deletions) and a consistent and well designed exception model (makes error handling much easier and especially powerful when combined with transactions as failed queries don’t effect the database [code jumps to exception handler before commit() is called], so no chance of junk being inserted). Error messages, in general, were also much more descriptive than those I’ve encountered with MySQL.
Finding a server proved difficult. I got a shared hosting solution, but the host was unable (though I suspect unwilling) to install the PHP for SQL drivers. So I ended up getting a virtual private server, but this only came with SQL Server Express and I used some features (see below) that prevented a migration. In order to avoid purchasing an SQL Server 2008 license (way out of my budget), my final solution was use the shared hosting server for the DB and the VPS for everything else. Hence the reason for the site being located at the my. subdomain, which maps to the IP of the VPS.
SQL Server 2008 is a fine system (despite some annoyances with the management studio)… though it’s really just a solid database system, which isn’t bad, but there’s nothing really impressive or creative about that. It’s not really leaps and bounds above a cheap solution like MySQL. The contest was about SQL Server, so I tried to do something that utilized a fairly unique aspect of the system: the geography data type. I wasn’t too impressed. It simply holds a (longitude, latitude) pair in a certain format, nothing more. The one big advantage of having a vector type like this would be doing comparisons based on distance but, as far as I could tell, this isn’t supported (my queries failed). Worse yet, in SQL Server Management Studio the display of the geography type is in hexadecimal, making things very cryptic… I couldn’t help but wonder why this is any better than using 2 columns and storing the longitude and latitude values independently. That said, the idea of richer/more-complex data types within a relational database is a pretty cool idea and it would interesting to see it taken further and beyond its current, primitive state.
Leave a comment if you find a bug or have any questions, comments, etc.