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Extra Life

Here’s my last minute appeal for donations for Extra Life. I’m going to be doing a 24 hour gaming marathon tomorrow (board games in my case) to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and specifically Cook Children’s Hospital. Cook Children’s is a non-profit hospital and money given will help purchase medicine, equipment, and provide treatment for the kids there.

I’ve made it past my original goal ($500), second goal ($750), and third goal ($1000), but that means nothing. Those are artificial numbers I used to encourage myself and others. If you can give, you should. I appreciate it and so do so many other people. Thank you!

http://www.extra-life.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.participant&participantID=89859

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Ideas are like Legos

Want to learn about how I think? No. No, you don’t; but I’m going to tell you anyway. Every day that goes by I add to this long list of stuff which interests me. It is neat from a technical standpoint, or it allows me to do something I didn’t know how to do or didn’t want to figure out for myself, etc.

Then I let those pieces rattle around in my head until something occurs to me about how I could combine them with what I already know to make something interesting.

So here’s a brain dump of all the stuff rattling around up there right now:

Tools

  • Map/Reduce
    • pjs
  • Flow
    • NodeRed
    • NoFlo
    • dat

Browser Compatible Libraries

  • OAuth
    • hello.js
  • Encryption
    • TweetNaCl
  • QR Codes
    • qrcode.js
    • jquery.qrcode.js
  • Color
    • randomColor
  • Generate Files
    • FileSaver.js
  • Data
    • TingoDB
  • Markdown Editor
    • EpicEditor
  • Communications
    • WebRTC
    • Socket.IO
  • Genetic Algorithms
    • genetic-js
  • Game Development
    • Phaser.js

Server

  • Authentication
    • Passwordless
  • Framework
    • MEAN.IO/MEAN.JS

“That’s a mess of divergent crap you’ve got there John,” you might say; and you’d be right. But it’s kind of like looking at a huge pile of Legos. What do you see to build when you look?

I’m Open Sourcing Two AngularJS Projects

By far, the most successful open source thing I’ve done in years is the project I called airquotes. It was my first project built using AngularJS and I published it early on to give others a chance to see something finished which had been built using it other than a to-do list.

airquotes on Github

Since then I’ve built some other projects outside of my day job using AngularJS and though not particularly profitable they are diverse (to say the least) and I’ve decided I’d like to open source them as well to see if they can help people.

The first up is PaperQuik (PaperQuik.com). It’s an app which asks a few simple questions and then generates a printable sheet of paper (lined, dot paper, graph paper, etc.) in the browser. Unlike most sites like this, it doesn’t just have a canned set of PDF files it dispenses, nor does it have a server process building them. Instead it uses the HTML5 canvas to draw an image of the paper and then helps you print that image.

PaperQuik on Github

The second project is ClearAndDraw (ClearAndDraw.com). It’s a simple webapp that I threw together in just a few evenings because I wanted to keep track of my cards and dice for the game Marvel Dicemasters: Avengers vs. X-Men. It’s not nearly as complicated as the paper generation in PaperQuik, but it does show real time filtering using AngularJS and it stores all of the information you give it in localStorage of the user’s browser so it doesn’t forget anything they enter.

ClearAndDraw on Github

Neither of these projects has any back-end at all, they are served up strictly as a set of static HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and images and do all of their work client side. That’s not to say that I don’t want to build a back-end; ClearAndDraw.com in particular cries out for one to be added so users can enter in card/dice information and then retrieve it from any browser and any machine, rather than always having to return to the same place previous cataloging was done. But the initial solution was simple and worked as a starting point. It also presents an example of how a site might save data locally even for unregistered users and then later save that to a back-end data store if the user does create an account later.

I also took an evening and updated airquotes to the current version of AngularJS (1.2.25) and deployed it to a GitHub page so people can play with it without having to deploy it locally (like PaperQuik and ClearAndDraw).

Dead(?) MacBook

This morning we encountered a MacBook that was not just dead, it was super-dead. It wouldn’t come on, even holding down the power button for ten seconds wasn’t sufficient to kill it and get it to start back up.

So I learned all new keystrokes to press to get out of this kind of situation that I’ve never encountered before:

Reset the SMC (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT3964)

Hold down the Shift + Control + Option keys (all on the left hand side of the built in keyboard) + the power button

Release and then hit the power button again

Reset the NVRAM / PRAM (http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1379)

Command + Option + P + R with the machine powered on

It took the last one to get the machine back to a working state, something I’ve never seen happen with a Mac before, but if I ever see it again, I’ll know what to do.

 

A couple of alternative ways of data preloading in AngularJS

Gabe Scholz recently wrote the blog post: Frictionless data preloading in AngularJS If you want to skip my explanation and go straight to the code, here’s my version of the same idea: http://plnkr.co/edit/23u3BI?p=preview I’ll be honest, I wasn’t in love with the solution presented in the blog post. We don’t actually do preloading for our work at my current employer, we just load the page and do one (or many) calls to populate the page. But even so, I’ve still given the idea of preloading some thought and all of the solutions which were presented in this article left me thinking that they didn’t make good enough use of the built in object creation and injection capabilities built into AngularJS itself. So, if you check out my solution you’ll see that I create an AngularJS constant object (with examples of that created in either the index.html file or one of the JavaScript files, depending upon your preference) or I create an AngularJS service which returns a promise which is resolved with the data immediately. The latter solution has the advantage of working well if you find yourself wanting to sometimes pull from a service, sometimes use canned data, or even sometimes pull from a cache like localStorage in the browser. By separating it out to another object which is simply injected into the controller, you’ll have lots of options of how you want to inject your data and you don’t have to create any new directives to do it.

PaperQuik – You can try out my new project today

If you still make notes, draw things, etc. then you still need paper and I’ve got a new project you might like. It allows you to create that paper and print it right from your browser. It’s only in an alpha form at the moment (which means not all of the features are finished yet), but you can already put it to good use and print out several kinds of paper in US Letter, US Letter (landscape orientation), US Legal, A4, A4 (landscape orientation), A5 sizes.

http://www.PaperQuik.com

Here are a few examples of what it can generate today printed out on a bog standard HP printer using Chrome (which is the easiest to get a great print from on either Mac or Windows).

PaperQuik Paper Examples

So, I said it’s just in alpha, here’s what you can expect in a later beta and the final version:

  • The ability to do some configuration of the pages. For example, remove the header on the page or change the color of lines from a dark grey to other colors.
  • A new Cornell Note-taking layout. Customization of that format will be really nice because you’ll be able to mix graph paper or dot paper into a Cornell layout.
  • Double sided pages.
  • A to-do list layout.
  • Musical staves as another possible thing to put on your pages.
  • Printing instructions for Safari and IE.
  • A fix for the preview issue in IE 9, 10, and 11.

Why we abandoned server generated web pages

1. You’re constantly transporting state back and forth between client and server (and often neglecting to do so).

The next time you’re in GMail, notice something interesting about selecting emails. If you check several emails for a mass operation and then realize you’re not altogether sure about one email, so you click to read it, then you come back out to the list, the same emails are still checked. Now do the same test in an app written in any of the classic Java, PHP, Python, etc. frameworks. In those, when the user clicks on the email to view it:

  1. In all likelihood it was just a link so all of the client-side state (the checked and unchecked checkboxes) is immediately discarded by the browser.
  2. Some “clever” frameworks make that link not really a link, instead, they generate JavaScript client side which invokes a POST (as if a form was submitted), the checkboxes do get submitted to the server, stored somewhere in the user’s session, and then hopefully sent back down with the next request for the page that had the original list of checkboxes. Our links aren’t really links, there’s lots of JavaScript magic going on behind the scenes that most people you work with don’t even begin to understand and, trust me, trust me when I say this… It breaks. And it breaks badly.

2. It’s slow, slow, and did I mention slow?

  1. The development cycle itself is slower. I can throw up a temporary API using a variety of tools (or mock it client side using something like $httpBackend) and start work on the UI immediately. As I make each change I just have to refresh the browser to see my change in place. In fact, if I use tools like the Grunt server the browser refresh is automatically triggered when I save a changed file so I can just glance over at it and evaluate the results without leaving my code.

    Most server side frameworks involve a compilation step of some type (for example, Java’s JSPs are translated to servlets and then those are compiled to a byte code for the VM). Thus I have a longer wait to view each change I make.

  2. If my UI is built client-side with HTML, CSS, and JavaScript then it’s way more efficient because the only data which is being transported back and forth is that sent via the API calls to the server. I don’t have to ship a complete list of all the products wrapped in HTML layout one minute, and then minutes later what is effectively the exact same list (minus one or two and plus one or two) again wrapped in a bunch of HTML formatting. Note: Some of this can carry over to content delivery networks as well because an all static files front-end works really well around the world.
  3. Users get tired of every thing they click upon meaning another trip to the server. If they just looked at that data a minute ago, it may well be in memory locally so showing it again is free. But if I have to go to the server again to get it re-rendered for re-display, I can get really old fast. I think we can all point to a site where we are frequently frustrated by the slow performance.
  4. And why is it slow? Well, because it’s not just persisting data and performing queries on it, it’s also combining that data with HTML templates of some flavor to generate full pages and doing so over and over and over again. More work for the server means more servers needed, more time spent on performance tuning, etc.

3. It’s a more complicated programming model.

  1. If you do a lot of web applications where the pages don’t use any JavaScript to pull data on the fly, validate user’s forms in real time, etc. then that’s great. But if you are then you’ve got a wonderful hybrid going where sometimes you work in one language server side but you also use JavaScript client-side and you’ve got two different models just for one UI.
  2. For many frameworks, lots of middle tier complexity can leak into the pages, making them way more complicated than HTML and thus much harder for designers (and programmers) to work on. I’ve seen this most often in frameworks where designers are expected not to use standard HTML. Instead they’re supposed to use perfect XML where every tag perfectly matches a closing tag and not a bracket is out of place, or they can’t use the <a>, <form>, <input>, etc. tags, instead each has some replacement which is supposed to be used which typically functions about 70% or so the same as the regular tag.
  3. I loved this recent quote about JSF, a technology that I rejected at a previous employer because it was very clear that it was designed by committee and not extracted from real projects (like say Ruby on Rails):

4. Debugging is much more complicated.

Something as simple as how some HTML is rendering may require me to setup a debugger on a server on a remote machine because it is being generated from an intermediate file and data on the server.

With AngularJS or similar JavaScript frameworks, I can first look to see if the data came to the browser without problems. That involves just looking at the JSON I received from my API calls. If that’s good then I can set breakpoints in the JavaScript in the browser to see how the JavaScript code flow is going awry. On data flowing from client to server I can usually just consult the browser to see what was sent and I again know whether I’m looking at a client or server problem.

Software Rants

Mine is not a real software rant, I wrote it tongue-in-cheek after reading one just this week which spun up a bunch of people. Like most of the others, I skipped gracefully past some problems:

  • I still have non-API uses for servers. If I need a CSV or XLS file for download, it’s still way easier to have that generated on the server than to try and craft it client side with JavaScript.
  • I glossed over areas where the server generated web pages have advantages (for example, if your users are developmentally disabled and insist on staying on IE 7 or keeping JavaScript turned off).
  • I also skipped over the fact that there are browsers like older versions of IE where the debuggers are very poor and debugging can be just as painful client-side as it is for server-side.

Every framework that has achieved some level of popularity or notoriety has had its share of famous rants (Rails is a Ghetto, Node.js is stupid, and if you use it, so are you!, Why we left AngularJS which has since been renamed to 5 surprisingly painful things about client-side JS). Somebody doesn’t like the language, the framework, the community which goes with it and in frustration they vent. Sometimes they’re right about their complaints and sometimes they’re wrong, often it’s somewhere in between. Just relax and try to read it with an eye to whether the points being made are good ones and ignore the vitriol.