Javascript videos – by Douglas Crockford of YAHOO

If you are a web developer, you almost certainly need to program in Javascript. If you need to program in Javascript, you need to watch this series of video

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presentations by Douglas Crockford.

Hopefully most of you (web developers) know who Mr Crockford is, but for those that don’t recognize his name: he works for Yahoo, and is a well known author and presenter on Javascript topics. He is a member of

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the ECMAScript standards body and a general Javascript guru – developer of JSLint, the JSON spec and author of JavaScript: The Good Parts.

These lectures were given to (some members of) the Yahoo development team. The first lecture is a fascinating history of computing and language development which is really informative and sets up the other lectures (on Javascript) really well. If you don’t have the time for the first lecture you can dive in on the second one and get right into the language implementation details, but I really do recommend you start with the first video. Each presentation is about 2hrs long, so make sure you’ve set aside enough time – it will be worth it!

I can’t recommend this enough – if you’re serious about your professional development as a web developer, Mr. Crockford’s material is must-read and must-watch.


Long Running Processes – a simple example

The problem

Sometimes, your web application needs to do something that takes a really long time – perhaps process a batch of files, backup or archive data, gather a bunch of data from external sources, or similar. When dealing with this situation, you’re faced with a few challenges:

  • browser and other timeout settings – web frameworks aren’t designed to take more than a few seconds long to process a request and send
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    back a response to the user.

  • user feedback – the user needs some sort of indication that the system is working as intended and not frozen or encountered an error.
  • user productivity – the user may want to do something else within your app while waiting for your process to finish.
I had to solve this problem myself a little while ago and thought I’d share my solution, which has a few concepts I did not find while searching for articles on the topic:
  • Status update in the form of a log or history of process rather than just a single %age complete number used in a progress bar
  • Providing parameters into the long running process, and
  • Getting access to the HTTPContext during the long running process. Continue reading »

Learning another language


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been meaning to learn another programming language as a way of ‘sharpening my tools’, so to speak. For years I’ve had my eye on LISP, but wasn’t sure it would be worth my time,

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given the predominance of the MS .net stack, Java, javascript, and some of the new scripting languages – ruby, python, etc. But I stumbled across a recommendation to watch a series of videos on LISP from MIT professors Hal Abelson and Gerald Jay Sussman. They are freely posted here: Well I tried the first lecture, and while I chuckled at the dress and hairstyles of the early 80’s, I was quickly hooked on the content. I quickly realized that this wasn’t just a course on LISP, but rather a great course on the really great concepts of computer programming. I’m on the 3rd lecture so far, and having a blast. This might be old-hat for some CS grads, but I’d still really recommend checking these out if you want to geek out on some advanced ideas.

Cisco VPN for Win7 x64

The Cisco VPN client won’t run on 64bit versions of windows, and Cisco has no plans to ship a 64 bit client anytime soon. In order to get VPN working on my shiny new Windows 7 x64 install, I tried to get the Cygwin/linux vpnc client working. I ran into a number of problems, so this post explains how it can be done and hopefully will help you avoid the same problems I had. I spent a lot of time researching information on the ‘net, and wound up tweaking steps a bit and hacking scripts myself, but much of this is based on work by Li Zhao and Salty.

NOTE: update 22 Mar 2010 – The client supports Win7 now, and seems to work flawlessly. It’s a much better option if you don’t already have a need for Cygwin.

To get Cisco VPN working on an x64 Windows 7, you need:

  • Cygwin – a wonderful set of tools to emulate a linux environment on windows
  • OpenVPN – to provide a virtual TAP network adapter
  • VPNC – the VPN Client

Here’s how to do it: Continue reading »

Speeding up the build – ditch the SSD and go for the RAM drive : Jeffrey Palermo (.com)

Speeding up the build – ditch the SSD and go for the RAM drive : Jeffrey Palermo (.com)

Thought I’d pass along props to Jeffrey Palermo for doing a great job on his post about using RAM drives to improve developer workstation performance – specifically running builds & unit tests. He’s done a lot of experimenting and has the data to back up his choices. Definitely

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something to consider doing these

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Kaban Development Oversimplified – putting limits on parts of your development cycle

Jeff Patton has a great blog about Agile product development practices – mostly from the product/design perspective, but he’s got some good project management information in there too. He doesn’t post very often, but his posts are real winners.

His latest article is about Kanban Development – something that has been gaining traction and awareness in the Agile development community for the last year or two. I won’t expound much on it here, as Jeff does a much better job of it than I would – read his post!

Kanban development comes from Toyota’s famously efficient and high quality product development & manufacturing teams – Kanban means literally visual card (or board), and is about the use of simple visual devices to control the flow of work through any system.

A common problem in software development is having too many unfinished work items on a person or team’s plate at any one time. This is usually a symptom of people not completely finishing the items before moving on to the next one, because they’ve run into some type of roadblock with their current item (need a question answered, waiting for the next build, or whatever).

The problem with this is that it increases the amount of context switching people have to – do by orders of magnitude in some cases. The costs of context switching for people working in highly intellectual jobs like ours is very often grossly underestimated, because we’re so used to multi-tasking and often our team culture often promotes it – people with a lot on their plate are looked up to as busy and productive, when they

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are really just spinning their wheels with lots of activity but little real progress.

Continue reading »

Quality & Broken Windows

The authors of the Pragmatic Programmer (great book btw, highly recommended) have a lot of insights into the craft of software development, but in my opinion one of the most powerful ideas is that “living with broken windows” drives quality downward in a depressing spiral of entropy. Well, they put it a lot more eloquently than that, but the idea is that when you’re working in a codebase that’s littered with problems, bugs, sloppiness, etc, you and your team are much more likely to do sloppy work. Your standards

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are lowered by the sheer weight of the code around you, in spite of your best intentions and even explicit attempts to do high-quality

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work. This is a great argument for continued refactoring of existing code, even if that code is more or less functional. It can affect the quality of new code just by its presence in the same codebase. It’s like a poison, or at least a bad smelling swamp gas…

I won’t attempt to elaborate much more on the concept – this article explains it much better than I’m likely to. Go ahead and use up some of your daily or weekly geek reading time on

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that article – it’s time well spent.

What’s your experience like? Have trouble keeping high standards when working on crappy legacy code that someone-who’s-no-longer-working-here-for-a-good-reason wrote? Wish you could rewrite that whole module or function from scratch but just don’t think you have the time? Can’t convince your Dev or Product manager to let you have the time to refactor that painful and buggy sub-system? Or, have you been able to clean up parts of your codebase with positive results? Was it worth it? Do you think it really makes much of a difference? Or, can you manage to keep your work up to all the awesome standards that you have in spite of the muck that you’re wading around in?

What do YOU think?

P.S. Don’t take this as suggesting that all of the legacy code is crap – it’s not. There’s a lot of really great code out there, I know. And you don’t need to look only at ‘legacy’ code to find sloppiness either. These are big generalizations, but I think they’re useful ones that apply to much more than just code.


Making sense of design patterns, best practices, etc – When to break the rules

I read a couple of posts the other day from Jeff Attwod (The Ferengi Programmer) and Rob Connery (Patterns, Purists, and Sinkholes) that were a little more thought provoking than average. They’re both talking about how to make sense of all of the ‘best practice’ advice thats out there, how to know when you’re allowed to break the rules, and the various troubles that you can get into on both sides of that coin. Certainly you can quickly get lost when using the design pattern hammer for every problem and often you just have to ‘get things done, NOW!’. But obviously those best practices and principles (like Bob Martin’s SOLID principles), have a ton of value and really can’t be ignored by any professional developer. So how do you know when to break the rules? Continue reading »

MbUnit Combinatorial Tests

MbUnit rocks. Perhaps other unit test tools for .net rock as well, but right now I’m really happy with MbUnit and how easy it is to work with. Plus it has some killer features. I’m really impressed with the combinatorial test. I have no idea whether other xUnit frameworks have this feature, but in MbUnit it’s really easy to impliment, and really powerful. Everyone doing unit testing should understand the possibilites of the combinatorial test, to improve the real-world coverage of thier test suites, regardless of the platform and toolsets you’re working with. Continue reading »