There Is No Cat

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

It makes your teeth turn green

One reason I haven't been blogging much lately (aside from the usual reason that I haven't had anything to say) is that I've been busy working on a redesign of another site I run, one devoted to shortwave radio, a site that is sorely in need of a complete overhaul. The original design won awards ten years ago, but ten years on, it still has that design and looks like a ten year old design. More to the point, ten years ago, I didn't know anything about working with databases, so keeping the site updated is largely a manual process, one that has been increasingly neglected in recent years. So I've basically been doing a complete rethink of the site and its features. And I've been taking the opportunity to learn myself something about this newfangled AJAX webly stuff that everybody's so hepped up on lately. Which means I've had my nose buried in one or another of the few Javascript and AJAX-related books that have come out recently. I was talking to one of my colleagues at work about it and he asked if there were any decent books on the subject. This is basically what I told him about the books I've read recently.

DOM Scripting by Jeremy Keith

This book is more about scripting the Document Object Model than about AJAX specifically. It covers AJAX in about 15 pages toward the end. But everything in the book leads up to it, because AJAX suggests some different coding techniques than traditional Javascript. I was very impressed with this book and it was a great start. I'm glad I read it, and I thought Jeremy's take on how best to implement AJAX applications (make them work the normal way first, then use AJAX to hijack the actions for those clients that support it) was spot on. That way people without the latest and greatest browsers can still play (and so can Googlebot). But it's a little weak on some of the real-world implications. This will be perfect once Internet Explorer 6 is pushing up daisies. But it provided me a firm foundation on the latest developments in Javascript.

AJAX in Action by Dave Crane and Eric Pascarello

This was the second AJAX book I picked up. It's a decent book if you're going to write the next Google Maps and come from a background heavy on Java and C++ experience. It's very heavy on methodology and design patterns, and insists that you learn all about them before it even gets to the meat of information about AJAX. For small projects, not so great. I got bored with this because I'm not writing the next Google Maps. When I do, I'll probably return to it, but for now, I put it down.

Foundations of AJAX by Ryan Asleson and Nathaniel Schutta

This book has the meat that's missing from the Keith book and touches on the methodology and design patterns of the Crane/Pascarello book without getting lost in them. It teaches you the stuff you want to know before getting into the Computer Science 404 curriculum. And it's got an appendix in the back that points out the gotchas that come from the need to support Internet Explorer, the Netscape Navigator 4 of a new generation. There's also a decent chapter about using Venkman, the JS debugger plugin for Firefox and Mozilla, and Microsoft Script Debugger, the JS debugger for IE, both of which I've spent a lot of time in recent weeks. I probably wouldn't have understood this book as well without the grounding from the Keith book, but having read the Keith book, it's making a lot of sense to me and is the best of the three in terms of practical real life solutions. This book helped me fix the remaining problems with my AJAX-based shortwave radio loggings page.

Posted at 11:10 AM

Comments

Note: I’m tired of clearing the spam from my comments, so comments are no longer accepted.

Thanks for the quick reviews! I've been thinking about getting into that stuff myself, and the web resources just aren't doing it for me this time. (Doesn't help that my JS-fu is a little sketchy to begin with.) Maybe I'll start with the Keith book and see where it goes from there....

Posted by Elaine at 10:54 PM, November 20, 2005 [Link]

My pleasure. I hadn't paid much attention to Javascript either; didn't seem worth the hassle to deal with the vastly different implementations for the small payoff. But it seems to me like it's ready for prime time nowadays. There are still cross-browser issues (see above), but they're a whole lot smaller than they used to be.

I think the Keith book is a good place to start. It was written specifically for designers who have shunned Javascript in the past, which appears to describe both of us pretty well. :-)

Since I wrote this, I picked up a copy of Stuart Langridge's book published by SitePoint; initial impression without delving into it head first is that it's pretty good and has some stuff the other three don't.

Posted by ralph at 11:08 AM, November 21, 2005 [Link]

I looked at the SitePoint book (I think I still have a sample chapter hiding around here somewhere), and the thing that made me less-than-enthusiastic was the assumption that one was a developer of old-style javascript. (this is, oddly enough, the same thing that killed my geology minor: a chemistry class that assumed you'd had high school chemistry.)

Posted by Elaine at 4:05 PM, November 21, 2005 [Link]

Hadn't thought of that, but yeah, I think you're right. Jeremy Keith's book doesn't make that assumption.

Posted by ralph at 4:08 PM, November 21, 2005 [Link]

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What do you mean there is no cat?

"You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat."

- Albert Einstein, explaining radio


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