I made a thing: Aroha generator

So I made another thing. The only reason I’m really even talking about it is because what’s going on in Christchurch is so awful I can hardly bear it. Making new things (even simple things like this) is a good distraction.

So in an effort to cheer myself up I made a web thing that says Aroha (and basically anything else I choose) as many times as I ask it to. I did this in node.js, which I’ve never used before, so this is a good learning experience. I have no idea how to deploy anything in node yet, but once I learn I’ll put it up somewhere.

Obviously this is not something I expect to be used in anyway, but learning new things always puts my mind in a good place. It makes me think about the good things in life like change, growth and the new. Something we all need to be thinking more about, especially in dark times. I’m certainly not a perfect person, but I try hard to be a better one every day. We owe that to ourselves, we owe it to each other.

Aroha Generator in all its glory!

If you’re interested in this very random project, check it out on GitHub. If you feel like escaping for a bit then you’re welcome to add to it, or create your own, or help someone else to create one. Just remember to be kind to one another.

Aroha.

Constantly letting down my variables

As it turns out I’ve been doing everything wrong. Well, maybe not everything, but at the very least I’ve been declaring variables incorrectly.

There are actually three different variable types in JavaScript, var, let, and const. I’ve been using var exclusively and it’s actually bad practice. So what’s the difference between each and which should I be using when?

const

Where at all possible you should use const. Unsurprisingly const is short for constant and without going into to much detail that means it’s something you know will not change. You won’t be able to use this all the time obviously because a lot of the time you need to vary the content of variables. It’s always good pratice to minimise mutability in your code and const is the ultimate example of that.

let

This is how most of your variables should be declared the majority of the time. The strength of let variables is their scope is limited to the block level. For example:

let numberOfPowers = 1;

if (numberOfPowers === 1) {
  let numberOfPowers = "1 more power than Batman"
  console.log(numberOfPowers);
}

console.log(numberOfPowers);

In this example we have two variables named the same thing, but because we are using let their scope is limited to different parts of the code so they don’t collide. So in the console, we’d see both “1” and “1 more power than Batman”.

var

This is the option you should use least often and that’s because of its scope. Unlike let, var has a very wide scope. This is either the function it’s inside of, or if it’s declared outside any function, global. Obviously, that’s not ideal because it creates a greater opportunity to have your variables collide, especially as your projects grow in size. So to revisit our example with var instead of let:

var numberOfPowers = 1;

if (numberOfPowers === 1) {
  var numberOfPowers = "1 more power than Batman"
  console.log(numberOfPowers);
}

console.log(numberOfPowers);

This time the console will only read 2x “1 more power than Batman”. This is because having a global scope means we are writing over a single global variable rather than creating two different variables with different scopes but the same name.

I can see when you’re learning why this concept might be more of an intermediate level concept. Scope can be a bit tricky to get your head around. At the early stages of learning it’s probably better to focus on core concepts rather than nuances like this, but as your skills grow I think this is an important practice to do with variable declaration.

Flow

Getting into a flow state is super helpful when you’re trying to get some coding done. Whenever I’m working on a course exercise or side project I find a few things in my daily routine really help focus my mind:

  1. Keeping my desk tidy – It seems silly but a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind for me. Keeping my workspace simple and functional really makes a difference.
  2. Meditation – I’ve dabbled with this for years, but this year I decided to make it a daily habit. I’m not perfect at it, but I’d say I manage to get 10 mins done in 9 out of 10 days. When I miss a day I notice it. I’m currently using Waking up with Sam Harris, which I’ve found very educational too.
  3. Music – Not all music is good for coding, but the right music makes a world of difference to me. I have a few sources I use to block out the world:
    1. Code Radio – Free Code Camp has a live streaming station via YouTube which is specifically for helping developers concentrate.
    2. White Noise – This isn’t technically music, but it’s just as effective at blocking out distraction.
    3. Spotify or Apple Music focus playlists – If you use a streaming service, there are loads of shared playlists for focus, concentration or study that do the job. I suggest using a paid service if you can afford it. Although I don’t come across a lot of ads in the free version of Spotify, they are frequent enough to interrupt my thinking.
  4. Changing location – Most of my best work happens in my home office, but some of my best work is done in a busy café. Sometimes when you’re having a hard time getting your head around a problem the best thing to do is take a break, change location and give it another go. There’s something about a change of scene that can make all the difference.
  5. Eat – If I’m not paying attention I don’t eat. If I don’t eat, I’m not effective at much of anything. I find removing choice helps me to stick to regular patterns of eating. Like with meditation I don’t always get this right but as a general rule, I eat basically the same thing each day at the same time. This makes sure I’m both fed and also taking regular breaks.

Do you have some flow state secrects I haven’t covered?

How to write modern JS

So you’re learning JavaScript (JS), cool. Putting all this effort in, you’ll want to be learning the modern usage of the language right? Time to get strict.

“use strict” is something I recently stumbled across, and it seems like a really important thing to be using. So much so that I’m a bit surprised it hasn’t been mentioned in the course I’m doing. As it turns out, JS is full of legacy thinking. In an effort to keep new versions of the language compatible with older versions, much of this legacy thinking was/is retained. Obviously this limits JavaScripts ability to overcome its past and improve as time goes on.

Evidently, in 2009 a decision was made to start to modernise JS with the release of ECMAScript 5 (ES5). This meant breaking compatibility with older version of JS if you decided that was what you wanted to do. This is where “use strict” comes in. To enable this “modernisation” you include “use strict” at the top of your JS files like this:

"use strict";
// code below this will be implemented the modern way
...

Since it’s been 10 years since that decision was made, all modern browsers now support ES5. So unless you need to support browsers before the dawn of IE10 then you should be turning strict mode on for all of your JS development.

This of course begs the question, why? Well, aside from staying current with the language, there are also a number of practical benefits:

  1. Modern JS throws errors on things that where previously ignored. This helps you write better, more secure code
  2. It can improve the performance of your code, sometime significantly. Sometimes the code itself is identical and you just get a free performance boost, nice!
  3. It prevents some syntax being use that future version of the language are likely to use. AKA it future proofs your code

So from here on in, I’m going to be using strict mode exclusively and only avoid it when a situation presents itself that I can’t.

As always MDN is a good source of information on both strict and sloppy mode. Now go forth and write strict code!

I made a thing: To-do list

Yep, I made another thing in JavaScript for the course I’m doing. This one’s a bit more basic, but really it’s more of cutting my teeth with jQuery sort of project rather than something anyone would actually use. It’s a very simple todo list app that lets you add and remove items from a simple list. It has no backend so you can’t save your list or anything useful like that, but the front end side of things does the job at this stage.

A simple to-do list app

If you’re interested in the code you can take a look on GitHub. Of course, you can try the app for yourself. If you find anything wrong with it you can submit an issue.

Pastebot

The more time I spend coding the more time I find myself researching solutions to workflow problems I’ve never had before. Copy and paste is a good example of this.

Sharpening my coding skills I find myself copying and pasting a lot more than normal. Maybe a better way to say it is coping and pasting in specific ways a lot more. For example, when I’m writing CSS I tend to copy and paste a small set of different colour codes over and over. Another example would be copying lists of items from a document one at a time to populate a list in an HTML document.

I had never considered that there might be a better way of doing these things until I stumbled on Pastebot. Pastebot is like copying and pasting on steroids. At a basic level, it keeps a history of everything you copy and paste. Even this simple function makes it incredibly useful when coding. Need to paste that colour code you copied 30 mins ago? Bam there it is in your clipboard history.

Once you’ve got used to having clipboard history you’ll never go back to your old ways. As a developer though that’s not even the best part. Where Pastebot really shines is its filters. Want to copy of a list of items then paste them as an HTML list? Want to copy some text and pasted it wrapped it in <p> tags? Pastebot can take care of all of that for you.

Do yourself a favour and at the very least investigate a clipboard manager, and if you’re on a Mac make sure you try Pastebot. It really is worth your time.

VS Code

Recent reading leads me to think my text editor of choice (Atom) might not be the best solution for my current needs. To that end, I’m downloading VS Code just to see what all the fuss is about.

The number one thing I keep hearing about VS Code is its performance. I’ve always found this to be quite a curious thing. Perhaps it’s just I haven’t done any meaningful coding in a while but I’ve always found development to be about 5% typing and 95% staring into the void. This might change as I work on bigger projects but for now, this is my view.

So given performance is a bit of a moot point (at least at this stage) for me I want to focus on other features of VS Code. This really is about two different things:

  1. Out of the box features, I can’t get in Atom. Stuff like IntelliSense and debugging features
  2. Recreating features I have set up in Atom like code beautifying, settings sync, Emmet, and code snippets and see if there’s any nuance

I suspect this will be a journey, but then again that really is the point. With a bit of luck, I’ll either reaffirm my choices with Atom or find a new favourite in VS Code. Another possibility is I just don’t have the development maturity yet to benefit from what VS Code offers, but I guess we will soon see.

Do you use VS Code or Atom? Is there anything you think I should keep my eye’s open for?

What is the state of JavaScript?

This JavaScript thing is really catching on eh? As the name suggests, “the state of JavaScript” survey gives a snapshot view of JavaScript development. What everyone (over 20,000 developers anyway) is using and enjoying or otherwise. It also gives a general sense of the direction things are going in. As with the StackOverflow survey, I found it well worth a read. It’s also beautifully presented.

Some of my main takeaways:

  • React is where it’s at from a front-end framework perspective
  • Express seems to be the stable go to back-end framework for Node.js
  • GraphQL appears to be the rising star of the data layer, but Redux is the player to beat
  • There seems to be a range of good options with testing, but the community seemed to enjoy Jest the most
  • Building desktop and mobile apps using JavaScript seem to be a two player game at present. Electron for desktop and React Native for mobile. This space does have some competition on the rise though. Flutter looks particularly interesting
  • VS Code dominates text editors by such a large margin, I really need to give it a second look. I haven’t seen anything that makes me think I’ll move from Atom but I’m open to the possibility

Have you read the survey? Did I miss anything you found particularly interesting?

Pigs in namespaaaace

When you’re working on a JavaScript (JS) app you’ll create loads of functions and variables. By default in JS, there is no namespacing so everything you declare is effectively in the global namespace. This can lead to issues where two or more functions or variables can easily be called the same thing and create conflicts. Take this example:

function pigs() {
  console.log("Pigs in space");
}

function pigsDance() {
  console.log("Pigs dancing in space");
}

function pigs() {
  console.log("Pigs in Mexico");
}

pigs();

The output of this will be “Pigs in Mexico”. To avoid collisions like this we can use an object to create a namespace. So reworking our above example:

var space(){
  function pigs() {
    console.log("Pigs in space");
  }
  function pigsDance() {
    console.log("Pigs dancing in space");
  }
}

function pigs() {
  console.log("Pigs in Mexico");
}

space.pigs();

This will return “Pigs in space”. By creating the object and making “pigs()” and “pigsDancing()” properties of that object, we isolate them from the global namespace that “pigs()” lives in.

This way, when we need our pigs in space, that’s exactly where they will be.

Atom snippets

One of the things I love about modern text editors is code snippets. Coding tends to involve repetition, code snippets can really help cut down on needless typing.

I group all my code snippets by prefixing them with “my”. That way to view all my snippets I just start typing “my” and Atom shows all my snippets for the specific file type I’m currently working on.

Some simple examples I use quite often are:

myHTML – My own HTML boilerplate

<!DOCTYPE html>
  <html lang="en">

  <head>
    <meta charset="UTF-8">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1.0">
    <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="ie=edge">
    <title></title>
    <link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" media="screen" href="assets/css/style.css" />
  </head>

  <body>
  
  <script type="text/javascript" src="assets/js/script.js" charset="utf-8"></script>
  </body>

  </html>

myjQuery – Inserts jQuery using their CDN

<script src="https://code.jquery.com/jquery-3.3.1.min.js"   integrity="sha256-FgpCb/KJQlLNfOu91ta32o/NMZxltwRo8QtmkMRdAu8="   crossorigin="anonymous"></script>

myFontAwesome – Inserts font awesome using their CDN

<link rel="stylesheet" href="https://use.fontawesome.com/releases/v5.7.2/css/all.css" integrity="sha384-fnmOCqbTlWIlj8LyTjo7mOUStjsKC4pOpQbqyi7RrhN7udi9RwhKkMHpvLbHG9Sr" crossorigin="anonymous">

myLog – inserts a console.log() to help debug my JavaScript

console.log()

Getting all this working in Atom is a fairly easy affair. I found the below video by Hitesh Choudhary super useful.