JavaScript Technology Writing

My Last O’Reilly Book

The editor for JavaScript Cookbook, 3rd edition, just sent me a draft to review and comment on. This is the last of the O’Reilly books that will feature my name on it. I wasn’t actively involved in it; my name is on it because they kept about 15% of my old content. New authors, Adam Scott and Matthew MacDonald, took on the majority of the work.

They did a good job, too. I particularly like the chapter devoted to error handling. The days of using an alert message to debug have been gone for decades, and JS developers now have sophisticated error-handling techniques and tools. It is no longer your Mom’s JS.

Good. I’m happy the language and its uses have evolved. But…

I sometimes miss the simpler days when an alert was your JavaScript best friend.

I’ve been working with JavaScript since it was first introduced over 25 years ago. Not just traditionally in the web page, either. I worked on a small project that used Netscape’s server-side JavaScript (LiveWire) in the 1990s. It was so very different from an application made with Node. as you can see for yourself from an old Dr. Dobb’s article on LiveWire.

Writing about JavaScript today requires a different mindset than writing about it years ago. Then, JavaScript was laughably simple. It’s simplicity, though, was also its strength. In its infancy JavaScript was so embraceable. You could literally toss a tiny blurb of JS into an HTML file, load it into a browser, and see an immediate implementation. You didn’t have to fiddle with compilation, installing special developer tools, or figure out a framework.

My first book on JavaScript, the JavaScript How-To for Waite Group Press was published in 1996. The hardest part of writing it was trying to find enough about JavaScript to actually fill a book.

JavaScript today, or ECMAScript if you want to be pure, is not so simple. And oddly enough, that’s its strength now: it is powerful enough to meet today’s very demanding web applications. And the hardest part of working on a book such as the JavaScript Cookbook is limiting yourself to the essentials, because you could easily write three or four books and still not envelop the world of JavaScript as it exists now.

When O’Reilly asked me to do a new edition of the Cookbook I knew I just didn’t want to take on that kind of burden again. It was hard to give up control of one of my favorite books, but after 25 years of working to deadlines and dealing with tech editors, I knew I just didn’t have the energy or patience to do the book justice. I knew it was time for me to hang up my drafts.

Thankfully, the new Cookbook team have done an exceptionally good job. I’m happy to have my name on the Cookbook, one last time.

If I write now, it’s solely for me: my ideas, my deadlines, my expectations. I may only write in this space. I may try my hand at self-publication.

Who knows? Maybe all I’ll do is write incendiary commentary in Facebook and Twitter and see how often I can get banned.


Google Fi and Pixel 4a: How Google can you get?

I had ATT mobile service for years. I also had Samsung phones.

After moving to Georgia, we decided to try something new. We were paying too much to ATT for two phones for two people who don’t use a lot of data. I also wasn’t interested in paying the price of a small farm in a third world country for a phone.

I thought about going with Xfinity’s mobile since I have Xfinity for internet. However, the company’s systems were so terribly broken I decided to escape while the escaping was good. We also looked at OnePlus 8 Pro phones, but support for them is still sketchy.

Google Fi

About this time I stumbled across Google Fi, which I hadn’t heard about previously. Fi is an MVNO or mobile virtual network operator. Google doesn’t actually have a physical network. Instead it channels three different networks it has agreements with: Cingular, Sprint, and T-Mobile. In my area, I have access to all three, including T-Mobile’s 5G network.

Where Google Fi differs from other MVNOs is that it will silently switch you between carriers depending on signal strength. So, if I move out of the T-Mobile area into Cingular, it will switch me over and I won’t even know it.

This silent switching occurs if, big if, you have a compatible phone. So this takes us to the phones.

The Pixel

I had already decided to look at the Google Pixel when I shopped for a new phone. Specifically: the Google Pixel 4a 5G. They’re a good mid-priced option, you know you’ll get the first upgrades, and you know exactly when support for the phone will expire. Google can get wonky when it comes to their products and services, but they seem to be committed to the Pixel phones. For now.

The best thing about Google Pixels and Google Fi is they’re made for each other. The phone silently switches between data networks, and I’ve rarely had problems with connections. Best of all, most of the connections have been 5G. Not that I care about 5G, other than being a cool kid.

Fractional GB and eSim

Our data networks don’t matter that much because we rarely use mobile data. When I’m out of the house, I’m not on the phone. I might use Google maps, and the phone camera, but I’m not going to check into Facebook to see what everyone is doing. When I’m away from my computer, I want to be away from the computer.

This leads us to why I went with Google Fi: the service only charges you for the exact amount of data you use. This last month, it cost me $.97 for the tiny bit of data we used for the month. Of all the options, Google Fi is actually the cheapest we could use.

Setup was easy, too, because we decided to go with new phone numbers to match our new location. Didn’t have to mess with sim cards. We didn’t have sim cards at all: the Pixel/Google Fi supported eSim, which is a software-based sim setup. The only difficulty was changing the mobile number for all the two-factor authentications for many of my services.

What’s interesting is I can get a sim card for another service, and actually switch between Google Fi and that service on the same phone. I wouldn’t, but I could.

Web privacy and the philosophy of licorice

Of course you’re all thinking now: oh my god, Google is really tracking her!

Of course it is. I have an Android phone, Google is always going to be tracking me. Now, though, I don’t have Samsung and ATT joining in the fun. I figure I saved over 10GB of space not having their crapware on my phone. The Google stuff was going to be there because of Android, regardless. To me, it’s just no big thing.

My philosophy about companies tracking is, they don’t care about any of us as individuals: we’re just a collection of related data they can use to sell us something. I used to use ad-blockers and other technologies to try and hide my movements until I realized I was spending more time doing all of this than I was just ignoring what each company is pushing at me.

It really hit home when I mentioned licorice in a Facebook post once. Most of the ads that popped up after that were selling licorice. Not just in Facebook. The licorice ads showed up everywhere.

It led me to what I call my licorice philosophy: You can control what companies know about you by giving them exactly the type of data they want.

So, now I control what type of ads I get (and what companies learn about me) by giving the data machines exactly the data they want to get. What does Google know about me? I like food, I like critters, I’m interested in arborvitae and 3D printers. I don’t like Trump. I like licorice.

It’s become a wonderfully fun game, watching the ads change from site to site. Some days I have a bit of fun and click oddly disparate items and watch the ad machines bust into convoluted exercises trying to hit all the areas of interest at once.

It reminded me of a time when I attended a group team building exercise when I worked at Boeing. Each table of people was a team. Each team competed against each other. We were supposed to come up with tasks that were difficult for the other teams.

What a pain. I convinced my table that we could have more control over the outcome if instead of making it hard for the other team, we made it super easy. The other team caught on quick, and they started doing the same. Between them and us, we ended up first and second, had a blast, and really pissed off the person leading the exercise.

Fun times.

Here I am Google, Take me I’m yours

The service and the phones have been working quite well. The only issue I had for a time is Google’s Assistant was answering the phone for me, and taking messages. I finally was able to persuade it to let the non-spam calls through.

I fed it the spam, though. It was happy.




When a backup isn’t a backup

Recently I ran into some problems when I upgraded my server to PHP 7.4. The problems were solvable but I figured I’d revert to my installation pre-PHP 7.4 upgrade and then work the issues off-line. But when I tried to re-install my system from a backup, all hell broke loose.