Old Sites, NewTools

The tools and techniques available to Web developers have improved immensely in the last few years. Our jobs are easier and the Websites we build better because of editors like Atom.ioSublime Text, and VisualStudio Code, diff tools like Beyond Compare, version control systems like Git (and the de-facto home of open-source development based on it, GitHub), developer-focused browsers like Mozilla’s Developer’s Edition of Firefox and Google’s Canary Edition of Chrome, CSS processors like SASS and PostCSS, build tools like Gulp, Grunt, and Webpack, JavaScript libraries like React.js, AngularJS, and jQuery — I could go on and on.  That’s  a partial list of my daily toolkit. The full kit is larger and good options exist for every tool I use.

These tools can lost their edge, though, if we’re asked to add a feature to a site that was built five years ago (or a site that was built yesterday using methods from five years ago), and we might face the prospect of having to revert to what feels like sharpened rocks to get the job done. Revising legacy CSS files is where I first notice great tools becoming irrelevant and where the problem has loomed largest for me, and that’s what I’m going to talk about here.

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Mark Up A Book Review With Schema.org Microdata

I read a lot and usually write up a review of some kind for what I’ve read, partly as an antidote to shills and partly because I just enjoy doing it. In the interest of sharing the reviews as widely as possible without giving free content to any wealthy corporations, I recently took a little time to revise my WordPress templates, structuring the content using schema.org microdata so that book reviews would stand a better chance of showing up in search results.
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Review: “Git Pocket Guide” by Richard E. Silverman

Switching to Git after years using SVN, I had trouble finding my way around the new environment even though I only need pretty basic source control. I didn’t “get it”, and things that should have been easy were difficult.

Two earlier books, both acknowledged by Mr. Silverman in his preface, helped, but in striving for completeness they both obscured the basic instruction I needed in an enormous wealth of detail.

A “pocket guide” seemed just the ticket, and the author’s intent, stated in the preface, showed a lot of promise:

“The primary goal of this book is to provide a compact, readable introduction to Git for the new user, as well as a reference to common commands and procedures that will continue to be useful once you’ve already gotten some Git under your belt.”

He accomplished his goal by half, I think. Although compact and readable, the book suffers (mildly) from a lack of clarity that, for me, prevents its use as a reference. Take this:

“If the current branch is tracking an upstream in that remote, Git then tries to reconcile the current state of your branch with that of the newly updated tracking branch. If only you or the upstream has added commits to this branch since your last pull, then this will succeed with a “fast-forward” update: one branch head just moves forward along the branch to catch up with the other.”

There’s nothing wrong with that paragraph in terms of narrative flow, but if you try to use it as instruction you notice it has a lot of subjects taking action — “the current branch”, “Git”, “you”, “the upstream”, “this”, “one branch head” — and among all those actors doing things it’s hard to sort out what YOU need to do in order to make something happen.

The author’s two goals may conflict unavoidably, so I don’t want to fault him too much. He’s produced an easy-to-read narrative overview of a technology but I’ll be going back to the thick versions for an easy-to-use reference guide.

I don’t mean to say this is a bad book. It’s not — it’s pretty good. But rather than being one I keep handy when I need to remember how to do something, it’s a book I got a lot out of the first time through but probably won’t pick up again.

This book was provided to me through O’Reilly Media’s Blogger Review Program. It’s available for purchase at O’Reilly Media.