Review of three books for web application development, by Lee McK
RailsSpace Building a Social Networking Web Site with Ruby on Rails, by Michael Hartl and Aurelius Prochazka, published by Addison-Wesley Pearson Education, c. 2008. $44.99 US.
I have already invested about 10 hours reading and working with this Ruby on Rails web site construction guide. Last month I reviewed the very similar Apress book Practical Rails Social Networking Sites.
See review at: http://slashdot.org/~beachdog/journal/177633
Both "RailSpace" and "Practical Rails Social Networking Sites" are second books for a person who has worked through one or two introductory Ruby on Rails books. The authors of RailsSpace point back to Agile Web Development with Rails by Dave Thomas and others as the most widely recognized first Rails book.
The authors of RailsSpace tell the story of how both of them have gone through about 10 years of web site development projects. They were both college graduate students that came upon an available web server. They moved from static html pages, then they embedded calls to Perl scripts in their html, then they worked with Philip Greenspun's Arsdigita Oracle database scripted in TCL running on the Aolserver web server, then they worked with the Python based Zope website system. That trail of experience leads to Ruby on Rails.
One of the things I like about RailsSpace is the authors take the time to very carefully focus on some of the conventions and features of the Rails environment. One of the first things you do with Rails is run "script/generate controller ...".
This book takes the time to point out the important things this action does. This script creates a file structure, some skeleton programs, skeleton display pages and writes some Ruby code snippets.
So RailsSpace spends more time at the beginning explaining the environment that Rails creates. More than being just a powerful script, the authors begin showing how Rails has constructively moved past the agony, the verbose code, and the blizzard of ticky tacky details that are common in the older development environments.
I liked the explanation approach because it has helped me to push on to developing my own idea of a social networking web site. I don't want to be a script copier, I want to prototype and experiment with a different design in parallel with working through the book.
Something I have found missing from the cook book type Rails books is assistance with the rhetoric, psychology and philosophy of designing a social networking web site. I like the formulation from Donald MacKay's Information, Mechanism and Meaning book; information is that which changes people's readiness for action.
The design problem of making a website that prepares a person for the action of buying something is thoroughly explored by many ecommerce web sites. The design problem of preparing a person for action to improve the quality of preschool childcare is not well developed.
Two books for the design problem:
Deliver First Class Web Sites 101 Essential Checklists, by Shirley Kaiser, published by SitePoint Pty. Ltd., c. 2006. $39.95 US.
This is a guide to designing and delivering a web site project. This book bridges the gap between a customer who wants to hire the construction of a web site and the web site creator.
The first two chapters frame the extremely difficult customer side problem of who is the audience, what is the purpose of the site and what is a realistic budget. The way the book works is each of these questions is filled out with additional questions, recommendations and commentary.
This book has the continuous clang! of experience acquired at great expense by a lot of other organizations and hopefully not your organization.
My wife who is not a programmer, but who is a veteran of other communication projects, recognized that this book is what she will need when her employer updates their existing static web site.
The value of this book for a web site builder appears in three places. First it sets the customer up to clarify to you a lot of things about the site before you cut code. Second, there is good advice about domain name acquisition and branding and use of copyright images so the customer can decide to head off domain squatters and traffic thieves before the site attracts attention. Third, there is a lot of clearly expressed technical, html, color and design advice to push you away from obsolete and inappropriate programming practices.
The difference between "Deliver First Class Web Sites" and an early web design book like Greenspun's Philip and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing is ten years of development of the vocabulary and mental landscape that describes a web site.
The Principles of Beautiful Web Design - Design Beautiful Web Sites Using This Step-by-Step Guide, by Jason Beaird, published by SitePoint Pty.Ltd., c. 2007. $39.95 US.
I am reviewing this book because I have done prototype websites with creepy color and ugly graphics. Long ago, I did take art classes and I blended water colors and did drawing projects with the Golden section.
Well, I figure with a little conceptual help I can make some headway in getting my CSS stylesheets and page layouts working better. This looks like the book.
I have found the default page layouts coming from my recent Rails prototypes to have a big problem with scaling gracefully when I enlarge the type sizes using the browser's Text Size menu. Hey, that completely sucks when you are over 40 years old and looking at an old 15" monitor. Anyhow, my next web project has to play well on web enabled cell phones too.
Therefore, this book looks like the third book I am going to use for my next development project.
If you live near San Mateo, California, you may be interested in attending our upcoming PenLUG meeting on Thursday August 23 . The books reviewed here will be at the meeting and available for review.
Meeting title is: Securing Web Applications in the LAMP Environment - Qualys
Meeting URL: http://www.penlug.org/twiki/bin/view/Home/WebHome