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Archive for the ‘Books’ 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.

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.