Finishing DotaGrid

Let’s start off similar to Finishing BattleTop, with the elevator pitch that I would have created for DotaGrid at the start:

I’m hacking a web app together to quickly create a well-aligned grid of heroes for the picking-stage at the start of a Dota 2 match, so I have something to use while is down.

There’s a few important things to note here:

  • “hacking”: Yes, this is throwaway code, even though it’s open sourceHeck, the main code files are called myMonolithicApp.js and tempHeroesJson.js.
  • “well-aligned”: I prefer my hero layout to be aligned to a grid with some very minor spacing between items. I.e. there’s no option to turn off “snap to grid”.
  • Dota 2“: Yes, this entire pitch and the tool itself assume you know and play Dota 2. Or that you know me personally and are willing to struggle through the Dota 2 specifics of this post.
  • so I have something“: The key word being “I”. Even though I’ve shared the app and its source, it was mainly something I created to satisfy my own need.

That last point is really rather important here, and it greatly affects the way I want to “wrap up” this project. But before I talk about that, let’s first look at something that seems to be in big contrast with this point.


Even though my first ever Reddit post was well-received, Reddit has always felt as a moderately hostile environment. Depending on the particular subreddit, folks can be rather harsh and direct, not always in a well-founded fashion. But there was only one way to test that assumption and face my public-reddit-humiliation-fear: by posting something. I felt my DotaGrid tool was decent enough to be of some use to others as well, so I decided to post it on Reddit. Here’s a screenshot of my post:

DotaGrid Reddit post

This got me some decent votes and upvote percentage…

DotaGrid post Reddit vote count

…some friendly remarks…

DotaGrid friendly Reddit comment

…some suggestions…

DotaGrid add techies comment

…and some low-on-details bug reports…

DotaGrid bug report without info

…but in any case, overall comments felt friendly. So even though I wrote the tool for my personal use, deciding to share it seems like a good idea in hindsight.

The Code

Looking at the code now, a few months after I wrote the tool, I must say I’m not too disappointed. Sure, it’s “hacked together”, and according to Feather’s definition it’s legacy code, as it doesn’t contain unit tests. However, the code’s structured well enough to add those after all and work from there. For example, have a look at this typical view model property:

Not quite great code, especially that final (rather frail) line of code, but at least it’s concise, clear, and potentially unit testable.

If I were to rewrite the tool I do think I’d need to separate things a bit more. Especially the fact that the internal grid model (which hero sits where) and the rendering bit should be decoupled. This would also be necessary if I were to create a more responsive version that possibly doesn’t use a table for layouting the grid (but either a canvas or a div instead).

Then again, I’m not rewriting the tool. Instead, I think I’m going to wrap it up by:

  • Putting a disclaimer on the Google Code project, the app itself, and the Reddit post;
  • Annotating a few bits of the code, should I or anyone else care to continue the thing;
  • Keeping it up to date with new heroes as they come out, but only for as long as I feel like it (which highly depends on the amount of Dota I’ll play).

That last point does remind me to make one confession: I did not anticipate too well what would be needed to add heroes to the app. I feel rather dumb about that, since my tool is a direct response to the fact that broke precisely for that reason. But oh well, you can’t win ’em all.

In conclusion

So in any case, that’s how I’m going to wrap it up, effectively “closing down” this project. Which clears the way for me to reboot and start finishing my final “open” project…

Finishing TimeLine

Oh my, that code… where to begin!?

Before you read on, perhaps you should have a 30 sec look at what I’m talking about. I’ll wait here, go ahead!

Current thoughts about this project

TimeLine’s at prototype status, but hopefully it’s clear what the app was meant for: visualizing experience over time, using grouped, parallel timelines.

I look back at this mini-project, and directly notice a few things. First and foremost: I still like the idea of such an app! Visualizing work experience is great for a résumé I think, it allows the reader to instantly get a “feel” for what you’ve been working on. Much better than dreary text.

The second thing I realize is that I clearly had no idea and/or time to quickly scaffold an editor (“yes”, I thus resorted to using a textarea with JSON; so sue me!). Today I’d use KnockoutJS for this, even in a mockup. Or, barring KO, I’d use some other plugin for it. But then again: “first make it work, then make it work better”, so I’m happy I chose something and moved on.

The final thing I realized: it’s a decent prototype, and to get there I sacrificed a lot of code quality. With 140 SLOC it’s not much code, but what’s there is rather bad.

Finishing things

This leaves me a bit in a tight spot. What am I to do with this project?

First I thought about deleting the thing entirely, praying no one would ever find out about the JavaScrippaghetti I had unleashed on the world. Then again, that would be silly: everyone needs to write a fair share of bad code to get better at writing code.

My second thought was to rewrite the thing from scratch: right here, right now. Nearly started working on it too. Guess I wasn’t lying when I said I still like the idea. Then again, that would be silly: I still have two other projects left to “wrap up”, one of which is much more deserving of my time.

My third and final thought was to wrap up by doing a loose “code review” of my own code. In addition it feels good to “stamp” it with a disclaimer and message that it’s “wrapped up”. And that actually seems like the best idea.

Code review

The html is not really worth going through. It’s a plain html-reset-based file, that uses semantic markup (header, nav, article, etc), and has a placeholder div where Raphaël will draw the timelines. The html contains a link to timeline.js, and some basic bootstrapping code to call timeline jQuery-plugin-style on the placeholder div.

Let’s dive into that one code file. It’s starts off with some good signs:

Apparently the code’s being linted with a more sane version of Crockford’s jslint, and the code declares ES5 “strict mode”. Guess the author did forget to run the linter recently, because currently it seems to still cause a few errors. Anyways, moving on we see:

Not exactly globals, but a definite hint the author’s struggling with JavaScript closures. Except for paperPadding perhaps, which hints at a feature for settings that’s just not implemented yet.

Moving on the code follows a typical jQuery plugin template, first with all the plugin’s methods defined within a seperate closure, then at the end of the file exported in a typical fashion:

What you can already see here though is that the plugin relies on one single god method: init. This method in itself isn’t all too interesting. It just loops through the grouped timelines, and renders them one by one. To find some things that are of note I went through a mix of Dutch and English comments (not a good thing for something intended to be public). Here’s one that’s particularly interesting:

Phew, at least the author realized the code could not go on like this for much longer. This is further clarified by the presence of this kind of code (abbreviated):

Yikes! The break statement is IMHO often a code smell (smells of goto), surely there’s an OO-approach for the problem being solved here.

Let’s finish on a positive note though, having a look at some of the variable names in use:

  • categoryHighway
  • lane
  • segment

This makes me smile. Having the UI of the app in mind I instantly know what these mean. A segment is one piece of timeline, a lane is a horizontal area where segments can be placed, and a catgory highway is a set of lanes for segments from one category. Close-reading the code I find this is in fact mostly correct. And with that I feel there’s a great OO (or more prototypical) way to reboot the code for this app.

In Conclusion

In conclusion, or perhaps more appropriately “in summary”, I can say this is a fine and above-all inspiring prototype. The code’s short and bad, but not even that bad for a quick prototype.

With a proper disclaimer and “wrap up” message I feel can safely leave TimeLine be for now. Perhaps one day I’ll revisit it.

Finishing BattleTop

Okay, the title is about as uninspired as topping a vanilla ice cream dessert with chocolate sauce. But it’s to the point! Also, with slight OCD, it’s nice that my archives will show nicely aligned “Finishing …” titles. This is important for many reasons!

BattleTop ThumbnailAnyhow, as I’ve announced recently, I had already finished wrapped up one project: BattleTop. Have a peek at the Source, or check out the Live Version.

Elevator Pitch

What would’ve been the Elevator Pitch if I had made one when I started? Something like this:

I’m developing an app for keeping combat initiative so tabletop RPG groups can skip the tedious parts and share the initiative state easily, using (mobile) devices that are present in sessions anyways.

Writing elevator pitches is far from my specialty, perhaps I should’ve said something about “the competition” too: I’ve actually looked for existing apps, and tried a few from the Android Play Store. Only a few existed at the time, and they were very unsatisfactory.

What’s it built with?

I’ll be honest: from the subset of suitable technologies, I didn’t choose based on “best for the job”. Instead, I chose two technologies that I wanted to learn more about, and stayed in my comfort zone when choosing the rest.

The initial prototype was built with:

  • Html5, because at the time I loved tinkering with the new semantic tags. Also, I intended to learn all about tinker with LocalStorage for saving state between (possibly accidental) page refreshes.
  • Custom CSS, because it’s “good enough” for a prototype, and switching to SASS or LESS later on is easy.
  • jQuery, because I thought I wanted to learn how to write jQuery plugins.

Only two days / 11 commits after I had started did I branch off to rewrite things MVVM style with KnockoutJS. I’ve not looked back since. It also paved the way for easy unit testing, allowing me to experiment with QUnit.

How’s it wrapped up?

The frequency with which our group did RPG sessions had dropped dramatically. This removes the need to have a tool, the motivation to keep developing it, and the ability to test it. And this is okay with me. I learned some cool new things, and heck: it even got it to a functional beta version.

To wrap it up I just reviewed all of my code. Unit tests had already been done in August, and even though the code isn’t the fanciest ever, it didn’t have any obvious loose ends or idiotic bugs. So after some minor changes I just added a “discontinued” warning to the code, the live version, and the project site, and that’s that: closure!

Any future for BattleTop?

Not very likely. I think I prefer to focus effort on one certain other project, and after that probably even start new projects before picking up BattleTop again.

But like I said: I’m okay with that.

Software Licences

Software licenses are confusing. I thought making a summary would require some useful research and would be a great way to learn more! Also, I was inspired by this WTFPL comic about licenses.

So I sat down and started my research.

Then I broke down and cried.

Why is this shit so hard? The site is decent, and even dares annotate pieces. However, for a summary of the popular license you’d have to construct something yourself from the bare license texts.

Anyways, I stopped crying. Grabbed both a beer and a hot cup of tea, and went in for round two. Surely Wikipedia has a good starting point? A zoomed out screenshot of the Comparison of free and open-source software licenses looks like this:

Open Source Comparison

So I started crying again.

Why I is this shit so hard? I guess it’s in part tiredom and beer (or even the tea? :O) talking, as the comparison table is actually quite informative and clean (after blinking once or twice). However, this would not help me summarize the licenses that I would consider using for a project.

In any case, I stopped crying. Poured a glass of whiskey after downing a cup of coffee. Round three.

Time to remember why I was doing this in the first place. Or perhaps not why, but more what triggered this post in the first place (besides the WTFPL comic).

The reason’s actually simple: it was the Stack Overflow license. Specifically this meta question. User  “Stefan” asks how to get permission to use a function from a SO post in GPL-licensed software. I had never thought about that: people may have to worry about all sorts of things to use entire snippets from SO posts. And heck: I am also one of “people”…

Interestingly, the solution from a code-providing point of view is simple. Posting on Stack Overflow means you release it under “cc-by-sa 3.0 with attribution required”. However, you can license it in other ways too if you so desire (and have the (copy)right to do so).  As user Pëkka puts it in this post:

Stack Overflow Copyright flowchart

So I broke down in tears again.

Why was this shit so easy for Pëkka to describe? How can I ever hope to create a text or picture about licenses equally eloquent and explanatory?

I think I can’t. So it’s probably best if I don’t write a post about licences.

CSS syntax naming conventions – REDUX

I’ve blogged about CSS naming conventions before. The Stack Exchange question I referred to then has since been closed (for understandable reasons). However, it recently also started gathering “delete” votes. Given that I don’t have enough reputation to see deleted posts on Programmers.SE, I intend to salvage up front whatever info was in that post and it’s answers here.

So, here’s the redux version of my post, along with the answers. If anything, this’ll be a good excercise in following the cc-by-sa license from Stack Overflow.

Question: what are the practical considerations for the syntax in class and id values?

Note that I’m not asking about the semantics, i.e. the actual words that are being used. There are a lot of resources on that side of naming conventions already, in fact obscuring my search for practical information on the various syntactical bits: casing, use of interpunction (specifically the - dash), specific characters to use or avoid, etc.

To sum up the reasons I’m asking this question:

  • The naming restrictions on id and class don’t naturally lead to any conventions
  • The abundance of resources on the semantic side of naming conventions obscure searches on the syntactic considerations
  • I couldn’t find any authorative source on this
  • There wasn’t any question on SE Programmers yet on this topic :)

Some of the conventions I’ve considered using:

  1. UpperCamelCase, mainly as a cross-over habit from server side coding
  2. lowerCamelCase, for consistency with JavaScript naming conventions
  3. css-style-classes, which is consistent with naming of css properties (but can be annoying when Ctrl+Shift+ArrowKey selection of text)
  4. with_under_scores, which I personally haven’t seen used much
  5. alllowercase, simple to remember but can be hard to read for longer names
  6. UPPERCASEFTW, as a great way to annoy your fellow programmers (perhaps combined with option 4 for readability)

And probably I’ve left out some important options or combinations as well. So: what considerations are there for naming conventions, and to which convention do they lead?

Amos M. Carpenter answered:

Bounty or not, to some extent the choice will always be a “matter of preference” – after all, how would you feel if the W3C recommended (or even imposed) a certain convention that you didn’t feel was right?

Having said that, though, I personally prefer the lowerCamelCase convention, and I’ll give the reasons and practical considerations I’ve used to make up my mind – I’ll do so by a process of elimination, using the numbering from your question:

(5.) justnoteasilyreadablebecauseyoudontknowwherewordsstartandend.


(4.) historical_incompatibility_plus_see: Mozilla Dev Documentation.

(3.) a-bit-trickier-to-explain… as you mention, selectability in text editors is one issue (as with underscores, depending on the editor), but for me it’s also the fact that it reminds me of the syntax reserved for vendor-specific keywords, even if those start with a hyphen as well as having words separated by them.

So this leaves your (1.) and (2.), UpperCamelCase and lowerCamelCase, respectively. Despite the mental link to Java classes (which are, by a more clearly defined convention, UpperCamelCase), CSS class names seem, to me, to be better off starting with a lowercase letter. Perhaps that is because of XHTML element and attribute names, but I guess you could also make the case that having CSS classes use UpperCamelCase would help to set them apart. If you need another reason, lowerCamelCase is what the W3C uses in examples for good class names (though the URL itself, annoyingly, disagrees with me).

I would advise against (4.), (5.) and (6.), for the reasons stated above, but suppose that arguments could be made for either of the other three.

Whether or not you (or anyone else for that matter) agree with me on this matter is up to you though. The fact that you haven’t got a definite answer quoting authoritative sources by now can be taken as a hint that there isn’t such a thing as a definite standard on this issue (else we’d all be using it). I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing.

Emanuil Rusev answered:

Words in CSS class names should be separated with dashes (class-name), as that’s how words in CSS properties and pseudo-classes are separated and their syntax is defined by the CSS specs.

Words in ID names also should be separated with dashes, to match the syntactic style of class names and becaus ID names are often used in URLs and the dash is the original and most common word separator in URLs.

tdammers answered:

It’s mostly a matter of preference; there is no established standard, let alone an authoritative source, on the matter. Use whatever you feel most comfortable with; just be consistent.

Personally, I use css-style-with-dashes, but I try to avoid multi-word class names and use multiple classes wherever possible (so button important default rather than button-important-default). From my experience, this also seems to be the most popular choice among high-quality web sites and frameworks.

Lowercase with dashes is also easier to type than the other options (excluding the hard-to-read nowordseparatorswhatsoever convention), at least on US keyboards, because it doesn’t require using the Shift key.

For id’s, there is the additional practical consideration that if you want to reference elements by their ID directly in javascript (e.g. document.forms[0].btn_ok), dashes won’t work so well – but then, if you’re using jQuery, you’re probably going to use them through $() anyway, so then you can just have $('#btn-ok'), which makes this point mostly moot.

For the record, another convention I come across regularly uses Hungarian warts in ID’s to indicate the element type, especially for form controls – so you’d have #lblUsername, #tbUsername, #valUsername for the username label, input, and validator.

asfallows answered:

I strongly believe the thing that matters most is consistency.

There are two ways to look at this:

  1. A good argument can be made for alllowercase or css-style-clauses (probably the better choice) because they will be the most consistent with the code they’ll be in. It will lend a more natural flow to the code overall and nothing will be jarring or out of place.
  2. An equally good argument can be made for a style that is distinct from HTML tag names or CSS clauses, if it will differentiate IDs and classes in a way that aids readability. For example, if you used UpperCamelCase for IDs and classes, and didn’t use it for any other construct or purpose, you would know you had hit on one every time you saw a token in that format. One restriction this might impose is that it would be most effective if every ID or class were a 2+ word name, but that’s reasonable in many cases.

In writing this answer out I came to find that I’m much more inclined toward the second choice, but I will leave both because I think both cases have merit.

1995: It was a very good year…

Apparently, 1995 was a very good year. But wait, I get ahead of myself!

Recently I had a conversation with a friend about CMSes. We were confused, disagreeing on whether “Django” was a CMS or a web application framework. Neither of us was entirely sure, both of us being developers in the Microsoft stack.

Given that looking for (meta-)comparisons, and coming up with (sometimes far fetched or even disrespectful) parallels is a “secret” hobby of mine. So why not attempt to insult as many technology zealots in one go as I can by comparing popular technologies? At the very least I’d find out if Django is a CMS or web framework.

Turns out it is both.

Of course, finding parallels is hard and at times nearly impossible. Platforms and technologies differ and overlap at times, making a tabular comparison quite a challenge. Here’s my (first) attempt at a comparison:

Web App Framework(s) Example CMS(es) Package Manager(s) IDEs
C# (and VB.NET)

Current: 5.0
Originated: 2000

ASP.NET: WebForms & MVC DotNetNuke, Orchard NuGet Visual Studio, MonoDevelop, SharpDevelop

Current: 8
Originated: 1995

Spring, JSF, Struts, Google Web Toolkit, etc. Liferay, Hippo, Open CMS, Pulse Maven Eclipse, IntelliJ, NetBeans

Current: 5.6.0
Originated: 1995
The PHP Group

Zend 2, CakePHP, CodeIgniter, Symfony WordPress, Drupal, Joomla! Composer PhpStorm, PHPEclipse, Zend Studio, NetBeans, Sublime Text

Current: 2.1.2
Originated: 1995

Ruby on Rails Radiant, Refinery, BrowserCMS RubyGems n/a

Current: 3.4.1
Originated: 1991
Python Software Foundation

Django Django-CMS, Plone Pip, PyPM n/a
JavaScript (Node)

Current: 5
Originated: 1995

Node.js Ghost, KeystoneJS, Hatch.js, Calipso npm n/a
Perl 5

Current: 5
Originated: 1987
The Perl Foundation

Catalyst, Dancer, Mojolicious Bricolage nCPAN, PPM n/a

There were two main takeaways from this comparison for me. First, apparently “Django” is a Python web application framework, and “Django-CMS” is, well: a CMS. Second, 1995 was a very good year: Wikipedia lists 4 out of 7 languages as originating in 1995.

Guess it was a very good year.

CSS Kata “The Lord of the Rings”

After last kata I’d really had it with CSS-ing “true semantic” markup. So this time I went all out: bend the markup backwards as far as it’d go. And though the html-gods may strike me down, they won’t do so before I’ve created this monster:

The Lord of the Rings - Comparison

I’ve spent 1 minute on a background to match the “feel” of the original poster, and a good 2 hours fiddling on the markup and CSS. The result felt moderately pleasing. I only felt like doing the easy bits, so I left the things I didn’t instantly know a solution to for what they were (the 3D effect on the letters, choosing a better font, etc.).

For reference, here is the monster we’re talking about:

So many spans, my eyes! Here’s the corresponding CSS:

See it in action on JSBIN.

This concludes my self-imposed challenge of CSS katas. Even though these katas (or the fact that I insisted on publicizing them) were probably not “lightweight” enough, the basic principle of doing katas was enjoyable. Perhaps I should secretly start another series…

CSS Kata “Fight Club”

I’ve now done four CSS Katas, and four times I ended up Googling “CSS first-word selector”. Of course, every time the answer was the same: not possible.

Today I made final attempt to avoid introducing non-semantic elements and use purely CSS to hack the actual movie poster together. However, it requires you to resort to some pretty hefty hacks to get things working. Take, for example, the heading for the movie stars:

Fight Club Movie Stars

In markup for this I can still rationalize grouping the two names into their own elements, but separating first name and surname feels like a bit too much. So we end up with markup like this:

Now, without a “first-word” selector: what’s left in CSS to style first names differently from surnames? All I could think of was this dirty trick:

This creates a linear gradient left-to-right, with stops at oppropriate horizontal positions: exactly between words. After that, it sets the text to clip out that background, so that you can only see the background where there’s also text. Oh, obviously this will only work in webkit browsers (and will look pretty awful in others.

Other parts of this poster were less interesting. The soap bar is mostly an excercise in text-shadow, line-height, letter-spacing, and some rotation. In any case, this is the end result, compared to the original:

Fight Club CSS Kata Result

The code for this result can be found on cssdesk, and is as follows:

And this CSS:

Next time: Lord of the Rings. Probably with full-markup-cheats turned on!

Book List – Update May 2014

Almost two years ago I posted about starting a book list. So I did, and today I also took some time updating my Book List Page.

Books "A-List" per 2014-05-11

The list was growing, so I divided it into three groups. Shown above are 10 book covers from the “A List”: books which I loved reading and would highly recommend. The “B-List” are books that were well worth my time, yet aren’t directly recommended for one reason or another. The “C-List” are books I’ve read, but I’d recommend against picking them up for one reason or another.

A shout-out goes to my friend and colleague who’s been solid in providing recommendations (as well as lending me physical copies); he’s accountable for about half of the books on my A-List.

I’m in doubt what to read or do next though. Some things I’m considering:

  • Either one of the “Seven X in Seven Weeks” series (programming languages and/or databases).
  • Something about Java and/or a new book on programming for Android.
  • Anything like “PHP The Good Parts”, if it’s out there. (with topics like OO, Unit Testing, Dependency Injection, etc.)

On the other hand, I might also stick with some hobby programming or Pluralsight courses for now.

Of course I was hoping writing this post would help me figure out the question of what to do next. No luck so far though.

Ah well, the Right Thing to do will come to me with time, I guess.

CSS Kata “Face/Off”

Here’s the slogan for today’s Kata:

Commas: use them bitches!

Or in general: interpunction is important. Turns out with this poster that even certain content (e.g. slashes) may not be content after all, but just styling.

First things first though. For the Face/Off Kata the first thing I did was to get the text in there, with only a wee bit of styling to get going. This is the markup:

And this is the CSS:

For some reason I did place a “/” in the movie title, yet not between the actor’s names, even though it was clearly there in the original poster. This is probably a problem, that can be discovered by imagining how a screen reader would go about this text. Basically, the Windows Narrator tells me this:

John Travolta Nicolas Cage in order to trap him, he must become him Face slash Off June 27nd

Not good. I’ve tried to improve my markup into this, using commas and other important interpunction:

This is much, much better. It is read by Narrator like this:

John Travolta, Nicolas Cage. In order to trap him, he must become him. Face, off. June 27nd.

Okay, so let’s assume the Narrator is my Oracle, and this markup is perfect. This poses a challenge for my CSS to still get a resulting visual that resembles the original poster. Here’s the result I settled for (compared to the original):

Face/Off Comparison

I’m not happy with this, as in: I wish I was more succesful in finding hacks to fix the differences. These include:

  • Getting the actor names to spread out on two lines, with the actor’s first names in a smaller font. I’ve tried using “first-line”, but as soon as I decrease the font-size the second word will also fit on the first line. Highly frustrating, I see no simple solution here.
  • Replacing “, ” (comma + space) with a single “/” (slash). I’ve tried several things, including the experimental unicode-range descriptor. No dice.
  • Getting rid of the periods at the end of sentences. Alas, there is no “last-letter” or “nth-letter(…)” pseudo-selector.
  • Finding CSS to fix the horizontally stretched text shadow on the titles. A meager “text-shadow” was as close as I could get.

In short: a failed attempt. Educational, though.