Developing with CSS3 for Dummies Beta Readers Needed

I’m starting a new book project for a book named CSS3 For Dummies. This is going to be an amazing book for developers who are frustrated reading through Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) books that are created for designers. Instead of focusing on creating new pages with interesting artistic elements, this book is designed around a developer who needs to make a page look professional and easy to navigate in the shortest time possible. Yes, you’ll get all the same sorts of information as those other books provide, but in a form that makes it easy for developers to work with CSS3.

This is a novice level book at the outset, but quickly moves toward intermediate level tasks. You’ll begin by learning the basics of CSS3, with an emphasis on what makes CSS3 unique. However, after you work through this introductory information, the pace quickly changes from other books you might have seen in the past. The book will focus on using third party libraries to create great results quickly. You’ll discover that there are all sorts of tricks you can use to get precisely the kind of presentation you want without spending hours to do it as you would when starting from scratch. The best part about this approach is that the vendor supporting the third party library takes responsibility for ensuring the layouts work on a wide range of platforms with all sorts of browsers; a task that can trip up even the best designer.

I’m assuming that you’ve at least looked at a few Web pages in the past, that you have some idea of what tags are and know the basic tags for a Web page (such as <html>, <head>, and <body>). I’m not assuming very much. You also need to know how to use your computer with some degree of competency. I’m looking for readers of any platform that supports HTML5, JavaScript, and CSS3. If you want to test my code on a smartphone, please do. I’m specifically targeting the Windows, Mac, and Linux platforms with this book, so I’d love to hear from developers in any of these environments.

It’s important to remember that beta readers provide direct input on my books while I’m writing them. In short, you get to help shape the final form of my book. Every beta reader comment is carefully considered and I implement as many of your suggestions as possible. Your input is incredibly important at this phase and unlike many other reader suggestions, you’ll see the results in the final product, rather than as a post on my blog after the fact.

Don’t worry about me bugging you for input. You sign up, I send the manuscript your way, and then, if you choose to provide suggestions on a particular chapter, you send the suggestions back to me. During the author review process (when I answer the questions of all of my editors), I’ll incorporate your suggestions. If you have any desire to work with CSS3 and would like to be a beta reader for this book, ask for details at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Where is the HTML5 Book Cheat Sheet?

A few people have now purchased HTML5 Programming with JavaScript For Dummies and one of the first questions that I’m asked is where the cheat sheet is. If you’ve purchased other Dummies books, you’ll have encountered the cheat sheet—a feature that includes quick tips for becoming productive quickly. The cheat sheet is normally printed on card stock and perforated so that you can easily remove it from the book. You place the cheat sheet where you can access it easily and provide tips for jogging your memory about content you saw in the book.

Don’t worry, the cheat sheet is still available, but now you access it online on the Dummies site. Now, before I get a bunch of e-mails yelling foul, yes there are some disadvantages to this new approach—the most noticeable of which is that you can’t remove the cheat sheet from your book and carry it around with you. I have to admit, not having the cheat sheet within easy reach wherever I am at the moment is a disadvantage. However, it used to be more of a disadvantage when I wasn’t always connected to the Internet. I thought about it recently and those occasions are rare today.

Let’s discuss the positives of an online cheat sheet. The following list provides some reasons that you’ll find the new cheat sheet really helpful (at least, these are reasons I like the new cheat sheet).

  • The new cheat sheet is available to everyone, even if you purchased an e-book version of the book.
  • I can make the cheat sheet as large as needed (within reason) to accommodate everything I think the reader might like to see (I often had to cut content from the old cheat sheets).
  • You now have access to live links as part of the cheat sheet so that all you need to do is click a link to see additional resources.
  • The new cheat sheet can’t get lost. Readers used to complain all the time that they had misplaced their cheat sheet (or someone had borrowed it).
  • The new cheat sheet won’t get worn out.

If you’re like me, you still like to have a paper copy of your cheat sheet around. To make the new cheat sheet as readable in paper form as possible, click the smallish Print link near the top of the page. You’ll see a less embellished version of the cheat sheet that will print cleanly no matter what platform you’re using. When the paper copy you have is lost, borrowed, or worn out, you can simply print a new one without having to ask anyone about it. Talk about convenient !

I’m always open to your input. What do you like or dislike about the new cheat sheet? Is there anything I can do to improve this new form of cheat sheet in the future? This is my first stab at this new format, so I really do need to know your thoughts so that I can polish my presentation to meet your needs. Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Defining the Benefits of Failure

In a society that values success above anything else, it seems a bit odd to talk about one’s failures as being beneficial. Even so, failure is beneficial because it helps define what is possible and what is not. Failure helps shape the expectations of those who experience and use it in a positive way to produce a better result the next time. In fact, failure is the greatest teacher of all and something to be embraced rather than shunned. Of course, this sounds quite counterintuitive and perhaps even a bit bizarre, but it’s a fact. All true success comes through a path strewn with failure.

When you consider the role of a technical writer, part of that role is to fail. Readers pay me to play with various technologies—to try to perform various tasks using a variety of techniques. When I find something that works, it’s time to put it into words that the reader can understand and absorb quickly. Failures almost never appear in books except in the form of Notes, Tips, and Warnings (just in case you wondering about the sources of those bits of text). A technical writer fails until a success is achieved and then documents the success so the reader need not fail. So, when you think about it, at least part of the requirement for my occupation is the ability to fail gracefully and to keep trying until a success is achieved.

Failure has even shaped my writing and the techniques employed to produce useful books. Previous posts such as, Methods of Learning and Developing the Reader Profile, are based on failures to communicate in my earliest books. Discovering these techniques and how to apply them specifically to computer texts is an example of failure applied to produce a positive result. Of course, my technique continually evolves as I learn more through my failures.

There are many professions where failure is essential, even mandatory. For example, scientists fail constantly. In fact, Thomas Edison is reputed to have failed around 1,000 times when inventing the lightbulb. Of course, Edison turned the whole idea of failure around and simply stated that he had found 1,000 ways not to make a lightbulb. Even so, he failed. However, it’s important not to miss the significance of the failures. People actually paid Edison to fail when you think about it. They realized that he had the expertise required to eventually succeed and that the failures were simply the road to that success. The people who believed in Edison took his failures in stride, much as the man himself did.

It may surprise you to discover that many of the greatest people in history were equally robust in their failures. Abraham Lincoln is often viewed as our greatest president, and for good reason, his record speaks for itself. Yet, his record is replete with an astonishing number of failures. Viewing the record and then viewing the man makes you wonder whether Lincoln would have ultimately succeeded without that incredible list of failures.

Marie Curie also experienced more than a few failures, yet everyone knows about her because of the successes garnered after working incredibly hard to overcome obstacles that would send most people reeling. Without her work, we might not have many of the medical and other scientific advances we take for granted today. It was failure that shaped Curie, but we focus on the end of the path—the ultimate success of her experiments.

The list of famous failures goes on and I can’t even begin to scratch the surface of that list in this post. The point is that failure, not success, is the teacher of us all. Success is simply the conclusion to any particular course of education by failure. Because of my unique view of failure, it concerns me that our society has taken a course that values success over failure and uses every method possible to avoid it. Our children are taught that they’ll succeed no matter what, that failure is best avoided. The overemphasis on success to avoid the potential pain of failure is seriously hurting everyone and reduces the chance of success in the future. Failure, discover it—embrace it. What is your view of failure. Let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Considering the Increasing Need for Security

Many of the readers I work with have noted an increase in the amount of security information I provide in my books. For example, instead of being limited to a specific section of the book, books such as Microsoft ADO.NET Entity Framework Step by Step (the new name for Entity Framework Development Step by Step) and HTML5 Programming with JavaScript for Dummies provide security suggestions and solutions throughout the book. The fact of the matter is that this additional security information is necessary.

There are a number of factors that have changed the development environment and the way you design applications. The most significant of these factors is the whole Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) phenomenon. Users bring devices from home and simply expect them to work. They don’t want to hear that their favorite device, no matter how obscure or unpopular, won’t work with your application. Because these devices aren’t under the IT department’s control, are completely unsecured, and could be loaded with all sorts of nasty software, you have to assume that your application is always under attack.

Years of trying to convince users to adopt safer computing practices has also convinced me that users are completely unconcerned about security, even when a lack of security damages data. All the user knows is that the application is supposed to work whenever called upon to do so. It’s someone else’s responsibility to ensure that application data remains safe and that the application continues to function no matter how poorly treated by the user (through ignorance or irresponsible behavior is beside the point). Because of this revelation of human behavior, it has become more important to include additional security discussions in my book. If the developers and administrators are going to be held responsible for the user’s actions, at least I can try to arm them with good information.

The decentralized nature of the security information is also a change. Yes, many of my books will still include a specific security chapter. However, after getting a lot of input from readers, it has become apparent that most readers aren’t looking in the security-specific chapter for information. It’s easier and better if much of the security information appears with the programming or administration techniques that the reader is reviewing at any given time. As a consequence, some of my books will contain a great deal of security information but won’t even have a chapter devoted to security issues.

I’m constantly looking for new ways to make your reading experience better. Of course, that means getting as much input as I can from you and also discussing these issues on my blog. If you have any ideas on ways that I can better present security issues to you, let me know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Introducing HTML5 Programming with JavaScript For Dummies

Today marks the first day you can obtain my latest book, “HTML5 Programming with JavaScript For Dummies.” This is a really exciting book because it helps you create interesting applications using technology that works on just about every platform that exists in the world today using tools that cost little or nothing to use. Of course, these are Web-based applications—the kind that run within a browser. At one time, Web-based meant applications that provided deficient interfaces, lacked any sort of pizzazz, and just generally felt cheesy (poorly made). Today Web-based applications provide interfaces that are every bit as good as their desktop counterparts, but don’t require a special platform to work. All of the examples in the book were tested on Windows, the Mac, and Linux using several different browsers including Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Chrome. One of my beta testers even checked out a few of the examples on his smartphone and they worked just fine. (I do try to point out situations where differences between browsers or platforms will cause an application to look or act differently that what you see in the book.)

Don’t get the idea that this book is only for beginners. Even intermediate readers will be able to discover some new techniques. That said, the beginning of the book is definitely targeted toward someone who hasn’t worked with JavaScript before. Here is a list of the chapters:

 

  • Chapter 1: HTML, Say Hello to JavaScript
  • Chapter 2: Assessing Tools of the Trade
  • Chapter 3: Integrating HTML5 and JavaScript
  • Chapter 4: Embracing JavaScript Variables
  • Chapter 5: Working with Objects
  • Chapter 6: Getting to Know the Standard JavaScript Objects
  • Chapter 7: Using Functions
  • Chapter 8: Making Choices in JavaScript
  • Chapter 9: Making the Rounds with Loops
  • Chapter 10: Performing Error Handling
  • Chapter 11: Understanding the Document Object Model
  • Chapter 12: Handling Events
  • Chapter 13: Connecting with Style: JavaScript and CSS
  • Chapter 14: Enhancing HTML5 Forms with JavaScript
  • Chapter 15: Interacting with Windows
  • Chapter 16: Working with XML in JavaScript
  • Chapter 17: Cleaning up the Web with AJAX
  • Chapter 18: Making JavaScript easier with jQuery
  • Chapter 19: Using jQuery to handle AJAX
  • Chapter 20: Animating the web
  • Chapter 21: Ten Incredible HTML5 and JavaScript Examples
  • Chapter 22: Ten Thoughts About the Future of Web Development

As you can see, the later chapters in the book contain some really interesting topics you can use to create great sites. For example, you get to work with jQuery, possibly one of the best libraries available today. There is even an example that demonstrates how to work with the Google Maps API. The point is that you’ll start this book as a beginner, but you won’t stay a beginner for very long. Not only does the book use the Dummies approach to learning, but you get a lot of hands on experience through 108 programming examples.

I’d love to hear any questions you have about my new book. Let me know what you’d like to know at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Piracy and the Reader

There are many articles written about the effects of piracy—the stealing of intellectual property—on artists and the businesses that work with them. The situation has gotten so out of hand that some people don’t even realize they’re stealing anything. I’ve talked with any number of people who admit to using a free copy of one of my books. When I point out that neither my publisher nor I have issued free copies of anything, they look a bit surprised. After all, why would Joe or Sally give them stolen property, or why would a Web site say material is free when it actually isn’t? It’s human nature to attempt to get everything for the lowest possible price, with free being the best price of all. Some people even think it’s simply wrong to pay for intellectual material; that it should be freely available to everyone. The reason products such as books have been successful so far is that the source of the material has been controlled through the use of paper media. The Internet has changed all that. As described in “Authors and Book Piracy” the losses from piracy to content owners are immense—on the order of $58 billion every year.

I was recently pointed to an article entitled, “The Slow Death of the American Author” by several people. In this case, we’re not talking about outright theft of intellectual property. The party in question is importing foreign copies of books and reselling them to students over eBay at a reduced cost. Foreign editions of books often sell for less for simple reasons, such as the use of lower quality materials and sweat shop labor. In some cases, it boils down to the domestic publisher not having a presence in that country and making a deal with a publisher in another country to distribute the book there at a reduced cost in order to make the book more widely available, but with the limitation that distribution will be kept to that country. There are also situations where a foreign entity has simply stolen the book content and printed copies without paying anyone. The point is that these foreign editions usually end up putting little or no money in the pocket of the author that produced the work and the author is already hard pressed to earn a living from domestic sales.

These and other stories simply point out what we have all known for a long time—eventually it will become impossible for artists of all stripes, including authors of technical books, to make a living through the expression of their artistic skill given the current environment. Of course, I’ll continue to write, as will many other people, but what does this change in the business environment really mean to the reader? No one has really thought about it. At least, I haven’t read any articles by anyone who has contemplated what happens to the people who consume intellectual property as part of their daily lives when the quantity or quality of that material is reduced because the practitioner of the required art must do something different in order to eat.

For some artists, such as musicians, it means a change in business plan. Many more musicians look to concerts or other activities to make a living today given that their recorded music earnings have dropped dramatically. A few artists, such as painters and sculptors, are pretty much unaffected by digital media and will continue working as before. However, for authors such as myself, it may mean a change in occupation. My technical writing could go from something I do for a living to something I do for pleasure when I have leisure time (which probably won’t be very often). There will likely be people who will continue to have leisure time to write, but the overall effect of piracy will be a reduction in both quality and quantity of material available to readers in technical fields. Technical writing pays poorly. The people who actually have the knowledge required to do a good job usually have far better things to do with their time than to write material that someone else will simply steal.

I’m actually looking at a number of ways to stay in business—much as smart musicians have done. What will likely occur in my case is that I’ll find a new way to present my ideas in a form that isn’t quite so easy to pirate or uses piracy in some way to actually earn money. You may see my site filled with ads, for example, or I may put a stronger emphasis on new ways of presenting information, such as interactive books. The idea is that I’m looking for ways to get around the whole issue of piracy because I know there is no way to put the genie back into the bottle at this point and no amount of legislation will cause people to change their basic nature. However, I do appreciate any support you can provide in the meantime through the purchase of my books from locations such as Amazon and by not sharing your digital copies with others.

Of course, I’m always looking for your input. If you have read my blog for a while, you know that I’m in this business because I genuinely enjoy helping others, so it’s important to me to continue serving your needs in whatever way I can. I have already received a few interesting ideas from readers on how to turn this whole situation around, but I can always use more. Given that the publishing industry is slowly dying and that I must somehow continue to pay my bills, how would you approach the problem? Let me know your ideas at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Cleaning Substitute

I’ve received a number of positive comments about the Using a Bleach Substitute post I provided a little over a month ago. The bleach substitute is somewhat potent and there are some negative issues with paracetic acid (although, far fewer than when using bleach). The main reason to use the bleach substitute is as an antibacterial. You use it on surfaces that you must keep bacteria free and are subject to contamination from various sources. The actual amount of paracetic acid in the bleach substitute I provided is quite small, but still, any amount does present hazards, so one of the most commonly asked questions is whether there is an alternative.

You can create a simple relatively non-toxic cleaner using 2 cups of water, 2 tsp of borax, and 2 tsp of white vinegar. However, enough borax (a naturally occurring mineral) will still cause some level of respiratory problems. Theoretically, you could eat enough of it to cause a number of negative symptoms or even cause death, but you’d have to eat quite a lot of it. In fact, borax is used as a food preservative in many countries (albeit, not in the United States). Borax is relatively benign as far as cleaning agents are concerned, but you must still treat it with respect.

This cleaning agent can be kept in a spray bottle beneath the sink because the amount of problematic agents is so small. You’ll find that it does an admirable job of cleaning surfaces and won’t cause any damage to metal surfaces. However, you’ll have to deal with the after effects of the vinegar smell, which does go away relatively fast. Some people recommend using essential oils to control the smell. However, if you add 6 or 7 drops of essential oil to the mixture, it may smell better, but now you have to consider the toxicity of the essential oil. If you choose to add an essential oil, make sure that you obtain a pure oil from a non-toxic source such as peppermint or orange.

Never mix the bleach substitute that I told you about with this cleaning substitute. In fact, mixing cleaners of any sort can cause all sorts of woe (up to and including death). Just as you would never mix bleach with ammonia (the resulting gas will kill you), you shouldn’t mix anything else unless you have a recipe for doing so. Let me know if you have any other questions regarding cleaning substitutes at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.

 

Review of Olympus Has Fallen

Tensions are currently high with North Korea, so it’s hardly surprising that Hollywood has played on those fears with a movie. Olympus Has Fallen presents a unique view of what would happen if terrorists managed to take over the White House. A number of people have compared this movie with Red Dawn. Although the two movies do feature foreign invaders, the plots are completely different and I would say that Olympus Has Fallen is definitely more compelling. It draws you in. However, in order for either movie to work, you have to be willing to suspend a bit of critical thinking and allow yourself to be entertained. Both movies are pure fantasy.

In Olympus Has Fallen, a former US Army Ranger, Mike Banning (played by Gerard Butler) faces off against a North Korean terrorist, Kang Yeonsak (played by Rick Yune). Kang has managed to take the President, Benjamin Asher (played by Aaron Eckhart) hostage, along with a number of members of his staff. They’re actually in the presidential bunker in the White House.  I’ll leave it to you to discover just how this happens. The two characters face off against each other in an extremely calculated manner—there are no cheap shots in this movie. I think that it’s the way the two men seem to think through absolutely every move that makes this movie so good. The two are chess masters in a dangerous game of life and death.

Kang is trying his best to get the self-destruct codes for the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal from the President and plans to use his son, Connor Asher (played by Finley Jacobsen), as the means to do it. Meanwhile, an ineffective Speaker of the House, Allan Trumbull (played by Morgan Freeman), hopes that Mike Banning will rescue the president and set things right. Trumbull really is ineffectual and portrays a calm desire to let Banning do all of the heavy lifting despite the insistence of nearly everyone else that Banning isn’t up to the task (it’s the people who vote for Banning that make the movie interesting). There is a dynamic between the various actors that provides nearly constant tension throughout the movie. Finley Jacobsen also manages to add a cute factor that endears him to the audience.

While this movie isn’t even a little realistic, it’s extremely entertaining. Riveting would be a better word for it. I noted that my wife actually sat on the edge of her seat throughout most of the movie. Any movie can rely on special effects to provide entertainment value and there are some special effects in this movie, but it goes much further. The acting is great, the plot is good, and there is nearly constant non-repetitive action. The varied action is a strong point in this movie (so many action movies repeat the same actions over and over again).

There are a few down sides to the movie. It could have been made a little more realistic without denting the movie’s entertainment value. Morgan Freeman does play the part of an ineffectual Speaker of the House well, but to the point of being inept. The role could have been spiced up a little without any problem. There is also an incredibly large plot hole in the movie that should have been addressed (just how did the terrorists manage to secure all of those US weapons, especially the plane). Even so, Olympus Has Fallen makes for great viewing.

 

Resetting Your CodeBlocks Configuration

Quite a few people have written to me about issues they have with C++ All-In-One Desk Reference For Dummies that involve getting CodeBlocks up and running. The posts in the C++ All-in-One for Dummies archive normally provide everything needed to get the compiler up and running. I even provide posts on using the 10.05 version of the product, should you wish to upgrade. However, there are rare times when no matter how much you try, you simply can’t get the compiler to work.

One technique I haven’t really covered until now is to reset the CodeBlocks configuration. The problem with this approach is that it resets all of your settings, not just those that could be in error. This is the reason that I’ve taken a more measured approach to helping readers through problems until now. My concern is that resetting everything will actually cause more problems and end up confusing some readers, so you really do want to try those other posts first. That said, there are situations where resetting CodeBlocks is the only course of action that will work.

To reset your settings, open your copy of CodeBlocks. Choose Settings | Compiler and Debugger. You see the Compiler and Debugger Settings dialog box shown here.

ResettingYourCodeBlocksConfiguration01

Click Reset Defaults. This action will reset all of the defaults so that they match the initial installation configuration unless you have created a default of your own. Make absolutely certain that the Selected Compiler field shows GNU GCC Compiler as shown in the figure and then click OK. Close and then reopen CodeBlocks before you test your configuration.

Let me know if you have any questions about this procedure at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com. It’s always my goal to make my books as useful to you as possible.

ViStart Updates

In Part 2 (page 62) of Windows 8 for Dummies Quick Reference I discuss a Start menu replacement application named ViStart. The basic reason that ViStart attracted my attention is that it provides the means for getting the Start menu back. Getting rid of the Start menu causes productivity issues for most users, especially users who have worked with older versions of Windows for a long time. ViStart is only one of several such offerings. I chose it for the book because you can download it and try it out on your system. It also provides one of the best experiences in getting the Start menu back.

Since the release of the book, LeeSoft has made some useful update to ViStart. The quick list of changes is:

 

  • Control Panel Added
  • Ability to disable and enable these Windows 8 desktop features:
    • Disable hot corners
    • Disable charms bar
  • Skip Metro automatically when booting the system
  • Change skins at runtime using the Control Panel
  • Change Start button at runtime using the Control Panel
  • More context menus when you right click files in Start menu
    • Jumplist
    • File popup menu
  • Fixed the problem that prevented pinning folders to the Start menu
  • It’s now possible to drag and drop frequent programs to and from ViStart
  • Pin to ViStart added to Windows file context menu
  • More control over what the ViStart start orb does
    • Show the ViStart menu
    • Show the original Metro menu
  • More control over what both Windows keys do with ViStart open
    • Show the ViStart menu
    • Show the original Metro menu
  • Context menu for navigation pane items
    • Rename navigation pane items
    • Rename documents
    • Hide/show items (to show a hidden item, go to control panel)
    • Properties
    • Toggle navigation pane option to show as a file menu or to show up in an explorer window, like “Recent” in the normal Windows Start menu
  • More stable, ViStart doesn’t crash as much as it did before
  • ViStart has optional offset y and x properties for Start menu skins. When ViStart doesn’t appear in the correct position, you can offset the Start menu using this feature
  • Install new skins with ease, ViStart no longer needs to be restarted to identify new skins
  • Drag a pinned folder from the frequent programs to the navigation pane and ViStart will add it as a new navigation pane item
  • More control over how the Start menu appears
    • Toggle show program menu first instead of frequently used programs
    • Toggle user picture
  • Added Show Metro to the pinned program list
  • Added Show Metro Apps to the pinned program list
  • Added default program listing for fresh installs (such as Notepad and Command Prompt)


That’s a substantial number of changes. All of these new features should greatly improve your experience with Windows 8. You can see a video that explains the updates further on YouTube.

While nothing can make the Windows 8 experience precisely the same as using Windows 7, working with add-on products does help considerably. In fact, I discuss add-ons as part of my article entitled, “8 Ways to Reduce User Training Costs for Windows 8.” Let me know about your add-on experience at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.