Always Get Better

Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Re-Learning How to Write

Monday, April 30th, 2012

In just two weeks, Node: Up and Running will be released by O’Reilly Media. Writing a book has been a lot of hard work but also a terrific learning experience that I would love to repeat.

The biggest takeaway for me was how often I make stupid mistakes in my writing. As a developer and manager, I rely on my speaking and writing abilities every day – so I take my ability to express myself for granted because I have to do it every day.

When a professional editor takes a piece of writing, they aren’t looking at it in the same way a co-worker would. A co-worker knows me, understands some of the subtleties of the context I’m writing about, and can subconsciously apply meaning to ambiguities in the text or conversation. A casual reader doesn’t have the same context, and the copy editor is able to filter that out and make adjustments to the text that leave my meaning intact but change the delivery.

In other words, the text that came out of the editing process makes me look really smart (I wish!). I’ve learned the secret to clear communication is in keeping the message brief. Especially in a technical book, the audience can’t be expected to deconstruct prose – it’s up to the writer to make their point and get out of the way.

I’ve also learned that I use the same turns of phrases over and over again. Reading 50 pages of my own writing in a row with the same sentence transitions is boring as heck, and I’m able to see this strikingly clear when it’s annotated by a totally impartial writer.

GoToMyPC vs Remote Desktop (RDP)

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

For some time now, I have been using both Remote Desktop (RDP) and GoToMyPC to connect to the various Windows machines I am responsible for. I present here a summary of the differences I have found between the two applications:

The Same
Both GoToMyPC and Remote Desktop support Windows and Mac (my operating systems of choice.

GoToMyPC is a Java-based application, and runs in Windows, Mac and Linux. There have been ports of RDP for Linux but these are not officially supported, so GoToMyPC wins on this point.

GoToMyPC supports drag-and-drop file transferring. I wish RDP did this – RDP can only transfer files if using a Windows XP/2003/Vista version – the Windows 2000 version does not support file transfer at all.

GoToMyPC provides a handy one-stop web-based location for managing computers I am able to connect to. With RDP this is much harder – I must know the addresses of all the computers I manage. This process is much more difficult when dealing with dynamic IPs, although it can be mitigated somewhat by using a service like DynDns.

When RDP is running, my Internet is unaffected. GoToMyPC appears to use a much large amount of bandwidth – Google and Skype chats start to skip when I connect with it. RDP appears to make much more efficient use of bandwidth.

RDP comes with Windows and is free to use. GoToMyPC has a hefty monthly fee which is hard to justify if you are a technical user who is able to keep track of IT inventory and/or control the operating systems in use on the network.

Which one is better?
I see a lot of merit to GoToMyPC and recommend it for clients who are looking for a quick, brainless solution and don’t mind spending the money. My personal preference is for Remote Desktop because it is light-weight and fast. Although, as I mentioned, I really do wish it supported drag-and-drop file transfers.

Ontario Government Builds Rural Internet Infrastructure

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2008

The Ontario government has a program designed to provide funding for the purposes of building broadband internet infrastructure in rural communities. The Rural Connections Broadband Program has earmarked millions of dollars to build new infrastructure, which will bring high-speed Internet to communities where low population densities preclude the construction of more traditional networks (such as cable).

This is great for users who, until now, have only been able to dream about leaving dial-up behind and joining the rest of the world.  Unfortunately, the solution to rural internet involves either unreliable satellite installations, or line-of-site cellular towers.

I can say from experience that the line-of-site towers work great but they are only able to service a limited number of users.  Service providers don’t want to admit they are over-selling their towers resulting in dropped connections and complete outages for their subscribers.  Trees are another problem; much of rural Ontario exists within bushland, so unless homeowners are willing to shell out for 90-foot towers on their home, they still may not get to count on their Internet.

Although, I will admit, the cost of a tower would be far less than the cost of laying underground cable.

Losing Weight with Wii Fit

Friday, November 28th, 2008

Let’s start with the conclusion – I lost weight with Wii Fit.  We bought the system in September and my progress has gone like this:

September: First month
October: Down 7 pounds
November: Down 7 more pounds

So to date I have lost about 14 pounds in two months.  Not bad, considering I didn’t really do much else.  That puts me now at my lowest weight in about five years, and all of my clothes are baggier.

Ah, but there is a catch.  In addition to using Wii Fit, I made (and stuck to) a meal plan which included no soft drinks or fast food.  I did not increase my activity levels though.  I basically just improved my eating and used the Wii balance board to monitor daily changes in my weight.

For anyone considering buying the Wii Fit, I would advocate the idea that it should be thought of as a tool and not as a gym.  The software does a great job in getting people off the couch and having fun, but it certainly doesn’t come close to the benefit one would get from actually going outside and walking around.

The real power of Wii Fit is in its ability to track changes in weight over time.  Seeing tangible results on the graph and experiencing spikes in weight due to late-night snacking gave me immediate feedback on my progress.  I found that made all the difference in finally getting me onto a healthy diet.  My next task is to increase my physical activity – maybe I will actually tone up a little.

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.