• Get Started with Static Site Generators

    In the early days of the web, there was no such category as “static sites” - the web was made up of static resources. This was a maintainable solution when the web was simple. That didn’t last long.

    Static sites had enormous limitations that made them an impractical solution for most web sites - even the relatively simple ones.

    More recently, however, a combination of asynchronous content, third-party services and new tools, called static site generators, have made the old skool static site both feasible and cool again. Tools like Jekyll are used to run thousands of sites across the web (including this one…though it admittedly deserves more love).

    But what are static site genertors? Which one of the 400 or so of them should you consider using? What types of sites are they most suitable for?

    These are some of the questions I aim to answer in a free report on static site generators for O’Reilly Media. I know what you are thinking - “Awesome, just in time for the weekend!” You’re right! Did I mention it is free? Also, I should note that it is free.

    Hopefully this report will answer any questions you may have about static site generators and help you get started in choosing one.

    Static Site Generators - Modern Tools for Static Website Development

    Static Site Generators - Modern Tools for Static Website Development

  • Which Free Code Editor Is Right For You?

    We live in a day and age as web developers where our biggest complaint seems to be a overabundance of free tools. In the case of code editors, there are a few prominent free ones: Atom, Brackets and, most recently, Visual Studio Code. Each editor has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Each is backed by a large corporation - GitHub for Atom, Adobe for Brackets and Microsoft for Visual Studio Code - so obviously they will be geared towards the target audience of each respective company.

    Nonetheless, they are all good editors. So which one should you choose?

    Well, it depends. You knew I was going to say that!

    In my latest article, Battle of the Free Code Editors, I go into the distinguishing features of each editor and what type of developer it is best suited for.

    Please, check out the article and feel free to share your thoughts.

    A Note on Sublime

    I was asked numerous times after writing this article, why did I not include Sublime? After all, Sublime is, for all intents and purposes, the market leader for lightweight code editors. The article compared free editors. However, Sublime is not free!

    Yes, you can try it for free and, as many responses noted, use it forever without paying if you are willing to live with dismissing the prompt to buy regularly. One person even noted to me that if the author didn’t want people to use it for free forever, they’d have a different license method.

    I’m sorry, that’s not how this works. The author clearly states:

    Sublime Text may be downloaded and evaluated for free, however a license must be purchased for continued use.

    As I said on Twitter…

  • Picking the Right Speakers for Conferences

    I have been involved in events for some years, ever since running Flex Camp Boston back in 2007 and as recently as handling many aspects of the planning, in particular the speaker lineup, for this year’s TelerikNEXT event. I’ve also served on conference committees for events like QCon New York and Fluent. In my personal experience, the hardest part of running events are getting the word out and choosing the right speakers. Arguably, choosing the right speakers can heavily impact your ability to get the word out - after all, your content is the biggest selling point of your event.

    Yesterday, Lea Verou posted an opinion piece saying that blind reviews for technical conferences is a broken model. You should read the full post.

    In summary, she believes that while the goal is to reduce bias and allow unknown speakers an opportunity, it ends up leading towards choosing “safe” topics. This is because the fear is that the more advanced or atypical topics, in the hands of the wrong speaker, could totally bomb (I’m paraphrasing - these are my words not hers).

    I agree with her, and while I laud the goals of making the speaker selection more egalitarian, there is simply not enough information in a typical abstract to know how successful a presentation will be as the text doesn’t indicate the speaker’s ability to communicate effectively in the format of a session (and requiring a prior session recording already starts making the process less open to fresh faces).

    Here’s the response I added to her post:

    I totally agree with this. When I ran a conference for 5 years, I was of the mind that who gave the talk was generally more important than what they were talking about. There are people whose talks I want to see regardless of what the topic is - they are engaging, thought provoking and I always come away learning something. Other people could pick the best topic and even have the best slide deck and bomb.

    I chose to have invite-only speakers list. That being said, I always set aside a certain amount of slots for speakers I’d never seen or who were new. The trouble with invite only events is the tendency to invite from within the same group every time.

    To me the best option is to have a committee that you trust and who represent a diverse set of experiences, backgrounds and views. Have this committee be conscious of efforts to be inclusive and make sure there is room for some fresh faces (even acknowledging that some of these will inevitably bomb).

    As you say, each method has its flaws and potential for bias, but even the blind review (as you point out) has bias, just of a different kind.

  • Is the Web Really in Trouble?

    This morning I published a post on the Telerik Developer Network that asks the question “What’s Wrong with the Web?”? If you read about web development at all (and apparently you do, since you are reading this), you can’t possibly have missed the long list of posts declaring that the web, as we know it, is in serious jeopardy. The main issues are:

    • The web is losing the battle to native
    • The web is too slow, largely due to the weight of advertising
    • The web is too slow, largely due to the cruft of too many libraries and frameworks
    • The web is trying to be something it isn’t (i.e. native) and adding too many unecessary features

    There may be more, but these are the core debates.

    The thing about all these debates is they are very technical - they are about how we build web apps or the underlying technology of the web. None of these debates seems concerned with what we are building. As I argue in the conclusion of my post, perhaps we’re worried about the wrong thing. Perhaps if we focused on building awesome and creative things on the web again, the answer to these problems would work itself out.

    I worry that web developers have become like bureaucrats, too worried the procedure of building web apps, having lost sight of the point of building them in the first place.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please comment on the post on the Telerik Developer Network.

  • The Web is Boring

    When I was growing up, flying was fun. This wasn’t the kind of fun that a kid finds in simply new experiences - it was a legitimately enjoyable experience. The airport was a much less stressful place than it is today, with far less security and fewer lines. The planes seemed more spacious (though perhaps that part was really just that I was a kid). They served you food on most flights - with a real, metal fork and knife. Perhaps it wasn’t the greatest food, but wouldn’t we just love to get something, anything, nowadays? They’d even let kids go into the cabin and meet the crew, often handing them a junior crew member pin to wear.

    twa pin

    I fly more nowadays than I did back then, but flying is generally painful. The airport is stressful. The airline customer service is generally awful. There are few, if any, meals or snacks served. Flying has become something I need - for work, to visit family, to get to somewhere for vacation - not something I enjoy. Even on vacation, flying is something we power through to get where we want to be rather than being part of the vacation experience.

    The Web, Too, Has Lost Its Luster

    Much like the joy of flying, I am finally ready to openly admit that the web is no longer fun. Just like flying, I use it more today than I ever did back when it was fun, but it is purely out of necessity rather than desire. On a personal level, I use web sites to get news and to keep up with friends and family. The web is, obviously, an integral part of my work too, for news and information as well as the focus of my actual job. All of these things I need, but none of them bring the joy and exitement that the web used to bring.

    Perhaps you are not old enough to remember when the web was fun. If so, you may even think that it is fun. But back in the mid-to-late-90s, the web had the power to amaze us. New sites and new businesses would launch regularly and everyone had to try them out because each one seemed to bring something new and creative to the table. Sure, many didn’t survive long (and we had tons of useless accounts), but they all seemed to be part of an inexorable path towards something special - a future where the web would make our lives more enjoyable, easier and, yes, more fun. Many of us firmly believed that the web was the future of computing - who’d need a desktop or operating system when the web was eventually going to replace the need for either.

    That Didn’t Happen

    Let’s be honest. None of that ever happened. You may be thinking, “But what about my streaming movies or my streaming music or my multiplayer games? Aren’t those fun?” To which I’d say, “Don’t confuse the internet with the web.” The internet enables each of these, but they are rarely done via the web (yes, they all have web interfaces, but I’d bet the majority of people do not access them this way).

    There’s been a lot of talk about how the web is losing some unofficial battle for survival. Much of that has focused on the overwhelming amount of tools for web development and the way these tools are impacting the performance of the web. I am not disagreeing with those, per se, but I can say that the web was actually much more fun back when it was also horribly slow (most of us were on dial-up after all).

    I feel that the thing holding the web back is a lack of real, creative innovation. I read every day about new little features of the web platform, but I can’t remember the last time I read about something built on the web that really excited me. Until then, I’ll keep passionlessly reading my news and blog posts or getting my gmail and hating myself for checking Facebook for lack of something more interesting to do. Sorry, web, but you bore me.

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