Saturday, March 30, 2013

Review: "JavaScript Enlightenment"

JavaScript Enlightenment

It’s hard to keep up with the O’Reilly’s output of pancake sized JavaScript books.  On the one hand, this is a refreshing trend in an industry where publishers release expensive, thousand page books that will be obsolete within months.  On the other hand, with so many small books overlapping content, goals and target audiences, it is hard to know where to begin.  JavaScript Enlightenment (<insert your own Voltaire joke here>) is one of the most recent of these short O’Reilly JavaScript offerings, the second that I've read which originated as a free web book (the other was "Learning JavaScript DesignPatterns" by Addy Osmani).

This is a short book, with short sections, that covers the basics of the JavaScript language.  Each section of the book follows the same pattern: it starts with a description of a concept, follows with a code snippet linked to jsfiddle, and ends with a summary.  This pattern is followed so strictly that it begins to get tiresome.   Phrases like “What I really need you to grok…” are continually repeated, because there are only so many ways to write a summary paragraph. The writing style is overly informal and often imprecise.  No doubt this was intentional, as a way to make newcomers more comfortable.  I think this was a mistake; presumably newcomers to writing code in JavaScript are not newcomers to reading books in English.

The short chapters and linked code examples, however, will probably be very helpful to beginning JavaScript programmers.  And the code examples are fine, although not particularly interesting.   For instance, a recurring object discussed is the ‘cody’ object, an object about the author, with properties for living, age, and gender, to which the author adds a getGender() method.  Um, ok.  But why on earth would anyone write code like that in JavaScript?  Surely a better example could be found.  

I decided to read this book because of the title, but I probably should have read the description more carefully before getting it.  As an intermediate to advanced JavaScript developer, I wasn't the target audience.  The title is mostly just a gimmick and ‘Some Annotated JavaScript snippets for the Learner’ would probably be a more fitting. 

This is a print version of a free online book.  I read the eBook, which I received for free from the publisher, with the Kindle app on an iPod.  It still retains the feel of a free online book.  If you are new to JavaScript, you might want to read this book online, but I doubt you’d want to buy a hard copy, unless maybe to give thank you money to the author and publisher.  In any case, there are several high quality free JavaScript language books online (such as Eloquent JavaScript) that may serve the beginner’s purpose even better, not to mention websites like Codecademy.  

If you already know JavaScript reasonably well, you probably won’t get much out of either the print or the free version.  

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Review: Programming ASP.NET MVC 4 by Jess Chadwick, Todd Snyder, and Hrusikesh Panda

Programming ASP.NET MVC 4

This one took me a long time to get through and I didn't even read it all that deeply. Unlike the other O’Reilly books I've read recently, this one is HUGE. It seems like O’Reilly has two types of books: giant 500 page reference tomes, and focused technology pancakes between 50 and 150 pages.  I think I prefer the pancakes.  They’re easier to read and they are more likely to address what you purchase them for.  On the other hand, there can be a lot of repetition: if you've read their JavaScript books you know what I mean. 

I wanted to review this book (and full disclosure: I got the ebook for free from O’Reilly), because I’m looking to learn the new MVC 4 features, having used MVC 3 for a little over a year.  This book was OK for that goal but there was a good bit that I already knew.  Luckily, there is a section that addresses what is new and provides a link to the appropriate chapters.  Those chapters were good, but tended to be rather basic, and not all that much better than what could be gleaned from the web.  Having said this, I've also skimmed ASP.NET MVC 4 in Action and I think Programming MVC 4 covers the new material better and in a way better integrated into the text.
I think this book would be great for a beginner who is approaching ASP.NET MVC [#] for the first time.  The introductory chapters are great and the reference application is nice (the feel is very similar to Pro ASP.NET MVC 3 Framework—which I used to learn MVC last year—though I haven’t read the latest version that one).  The book explains the ‘theory’ behind the framework well.

I liked the chapter “Client-Side Optimization Techniques”: it is basically the Cliff Notes of High Performance Web Sites, with specific applications to the .NET platform.  The “Parallel, Asynchronous, and Real-Time Data Operations” was surprisingly thorough, covering the subjects better than other MVC books I've looked into.

In summary, I think this book would be perfect for a beginner wanting to get a complete picture of MVC 4 and who already knows the .NET framework and C#.  It would give them a good foundation for digging deeper into subjects that are important to them, though they would probably need to look elsewhere for that depth.  For those of us looking for the new version 4 stuff only, it probably isn’t worth it unless you like reading and owning big giant books.
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