Always Get Better

Archive for August, 2008

The 8 Month Mark

Saturday, August 16th, 2008

Since this blog has been running for the past 8 months, I thought I might take a step back and consider the journey so far.  How did my original expectations stack up against reality?

The first thing that struck me was how quickly people found my work and how readily they picked it apart.  I thought I knew quite a lot about my field, but this experience has shown me that there are many very knowledgeable people out there, and with a breadth of experience I could not have imagined.  Consequentially, I feel I’ve become much sharper in my writing – I am less likely to jump to unsupported conclusions and I can hold my own much better.

The second revelation I had was that in order to have decent content prepared and ready to publish regularly, I have to write a lot.  With a full-time job, new child, and college studies on my hands, I haven’t had the opportunity to invest as much effort into this blog as it deserves.  Sometimes days (at one time, weeks) go by without a post.  That is a situation I plan to rectify in the lead-up to the one-year anniversary.

Third: revenue.  In the back of my mind I know that it is possible to monetize blogs, and I plan to do so with Always Getting Better – one day.  While originally I believed my goal was to rush to riches, I am aware of the reality of the time involved and my own commitment being barriers to that kind of success.  What I found was the pleasure of writing these articles, and of interacting with some of the very intelligent people I’ve met so far, has made the experience of maintaining this blog worth the effort.

So to all those who do read, whether they contact me or not, I’d like to take this opportunity to say thank you for making this a fun ride so far.  I hope you find the content I add to be worth your time investment and I welcome your continued feedback!

JavaScript & Ajax Visual Quickstart Guide

Wednesday, August 13th, 2008

One day last year my client decided we needed to incorporate AJAX into their web site. AJAX was considered the big thing, and by not having “it” we were going to fall behind some of our competitors.

“What do you want to enhance using AJAX?”
“What do you mean? Just install AJAX.”

Ok. I’ve been doing a lot of work with JavaScript for years, including DOM manipulation and other Web 2.0-ish type trickery, but AJAX as a concept was something I had yet to explore. After reading resources available online, I decided to jump ahead a bit and buy a book on the topic.

I picked JavaScript & Ajax, Visual Quickstart Guide for a number of reasons.

  1. It featured a beginner’s look at AJAX
  2. It is part of the Visual Quickstart series – anyone who knows me will know that I love how professionally this series is put together
  3. It features a full-colour DOM object reference flowchart

I will admit this book is not the most comprehensive resource out there, for JavaScript or for AJAX. If I had wanted a more solid reference manual I would likely have sought out a book that focused solely on AJAX or solely on JavaScript. My trusty old tome Mastering JavaScript has always been a great reference, and I won’t get rid of it any time soon.

Although the title of the book is JavaScript & AJAX, the truth is this is a book about JavaScript. Right in the introduction the authors admit they simply added Ajax in this (6th) edition. Beginning the chapter on Ajax, we learn that the name of the book was changed to include Ajax in order to cash in on the success of the methodology. I won’t fault the authors for making that move – in fact I would consider a book about JavaScript to be incomplete nowadays if it did not include a discussion on Ajax.

I bought this book because of its practical discussion. The authors describe generic tricks such as adding dynamic dates and form validation to your site, something older books don’t always consider in much detail. Although the language itself hasn’t really changed since the 90s, the way we use it has. For that reason alone I like to upgrade my bookshelf to keep up with the current trends.

This book features a full colour reference chart for DOM properties. This may not be useful to people who like to use syntax-highlight and code completion software, but I still tend to write JavaScript in plain text editors, so any attribute I don’t know off the top of my head is handy to have at my fingertips.

In all, the authors have done a good job of bringing together a thorough primer for JavaScript. The book identifies itself as targeting beginner to intermediate programmers, an assessment I would tend to agree with. If you’re looking for a decent reference, easy to access, without a lot of jargon, this is the book for you.

Internet Explorer URL Character Limit is 2,083

Tuesday, August 12th, 2008

Today I learned that Internet Explorer limits the site of GET requests to 2,083 characters.  Any URL longer than this cannot be used by the web browser.

I can’t help but wonder where that number comes from?  The closest power is 11 (2^11=2048), which doesn’t correspond at all to this limit.  Is it arbitrary?  Other web browsers (Firefox, Safari) do not have this limitation.

ASP.NET: A potentially dangerous Request.Form value was detected from the client

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

This error is caused by the presence of HTML in the fields returned by a form post.  In many cases, for example page management tools, you may want to allow your users to enter text formatted with HTML.  By default, ASP.NET doesn’t like this.

To turn it off, add ValidateRequest=”false” to the top of your aspx file.  This turns off validation of form results.

Honestly, I would rather if this property were available for individual form controls, because in my mind validation is still desirable overall even if one or two fields should allow HTML.  But there you have it.

What I Learned from MUDs

Friday, August 1st, 2008

The first bit of code I ever worked on was ROM 2.4, a text-based MUD server written in C.  At the time I didn’t know the first thing about programming, but through trial and error I was able to feel my way around the source code and slowly learn how the language worked and how to make the program do what I wanted.  Some experienced programmers called me the “snippet king” because I used a lot of pre-written additions to expand m game, but I see it as part of the learning process.  If I were to work on a MUD again, I now have the knowledge to do all of the programming myself – but if it weren’t for my baby steps back then I may never have become a programmer at all.

Text-based gaming is all but unheard of now that games like World of Warcraft and Everquest have taken hold.  In my opinion this is a crime because the worlds created through words were so detailed and so interactive that replacing them with pretty graphics makes for a much shallower experience.  It used to be possible to make life-long friends and really share interested, now the genre has been opened up to the lowest common denominator and there is so much swearing and name-calling that many older, more mature players don’t even bother.

I learned a lot of skills from my days playing MUDs that have helped me in my professional life:

  • Programming (obviously)
  • How to interact with others online
  • How to type very fast
  • How to write with personality
  • How to be thick-skinned (when people think they are anonymous, they are quicker to criticize and personally attack you, especially when you’re involved in content creation)