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David Griffiths is the author of the newly released Head First Rails. We sat down with him recently and asked him a few questions about his favorite subject.
What are some of the coolest things learners can do once they've worked through Head First Rails?
Wow — there's so much cool stuff in the book, where to begin? I wanted to write a book where people didn't just get to know stuff, but they actually learnt how to do stuff. So really the whole book is about how to do cool things. Like build a custom web application in two minutes. Or manage multiple data sets in a single interface. Or create a mashup with Google maps. Or using Ajax in really practical ways, not just for eye-candy. Cool is really just another word for powerful and I want people to finish this book armed with practical skills that they can apply from the get-go.
How do you think the Head First approach to Rails is different from other non-Head-First Rails books you've seen and used? How do you think Head First makes Rails easier to learn?
A lot of books provide information about Rails, but Head First Rails gives you something else as well: motivation. Motivation is a really key thing in learning any new topic. It doesn't matter how smart you are, if you don't feel motivated, then it will be really hard to learn anything. So how does Head First Rails motivate you? It uses fun and drama and scenarios. It has characters and plots and twists and turns. We use a lot of the same tricks they use in movies. Why? Because we want the teaching material to be compelling, like a movie is compelling. Rails is this incredible development framework. Things that used to take me four or five hours, I can now do in four or five minutes in Rails. That's an exciting thing! And Head First Rails is designed to convey that excitement.
Read the rest of David's interview on the Head First Labs blog.
by Jeff Siarto, co-author of Head First Web Design
1. Simplify Everything
Remove unnecessary and extraneous content
People come to your website to find information. It might be to look at your portfolio, read about a recent vacation or find out how to get in touch with you. Your job as a web designer is to make this information accessible and easy to find. The easiest way to help people find the important content is to get rid of the stuff that seems trivial and non-essential. The next time you make changes to your homepage, try taking things out instead of adding. Maybe that Facebook status widget or your most recent 100 Tweets aren't as essential to the core content of your site as you thought. Think about the main content areas of your site and concentrate on making them better before even thinking about adding more.
Downsize your markup
Just as content can become cluttered and unorganized, so can your site's underlying markup. In a perfect world, the HTML that your site's built on would be an exact semantic representation of your content. Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world and HTML (and it's variant XHTML) aren't perfect markup languages. With that in mind, it's important to try and make your markup as lean as possible. Is that extra container
<div> really necessary? Do these items need to be in a list, or will a paragraph work just as well? Am I using tables for tabular data and not layout? Go through your markup — and just like you did with your page content — remove anything that isn't essential to the layout and semantics of your site. Organizing that tag soup will not only speed up your site, but also reduce browser inconsistencies and give clearer meaning to your content.
Read the rest of Jeff's tips on the Head First Labs blog.
by Brett McLaughlin, Series Editor
So here we are, a new year. Unsurprisingly, we're getting lots of questions here at the Labs about what's coming in 2009. What books are in progress? What about Rough Cuts and Safari... what's going on there? And where, oh where, is Head First EJB?
Yeah, it's definitely true, we've got some great books coming out in 2009. To mention just a few, you'll see Head First Networking and Head First Programming, and keep an eye out for an improved and updated second edition of Head First PMP, just in time for the updated PMP exam coming out later this year. We've also got another exciting title, Head First Data Analysis, that's going to give you a Head First look at data in a way you'd never expect. Should be really cool.
Read the rest of this post on the Head First Labs blog.
by Tim O'Reilly
I spent a lot of last year urging people to work on stuff that matters. This led to many questions about what that "stuff" might be. I've been a bit reluctant to answer those questions, because the list is different for everyone. I thought I'd do better to start the new year with some ideas about how to think about this for yourself.
First off, though, I want to make clear that "work on stuff that matters" does not mean focusing on non-profit work, "causes, or any other form of "do-goodism." Non-profit projects often do matter a great deal, and people with tech skills can make important contributions, but it's essential to get beyond that narrow box. I'm a strong believer in the social value of business done right. We need to build an economy in which the important things are paid for in self-sustaining ways rather than as charities to be funded out of the goodness of our hearts.
There are a number of half-unconscious litmus tests I use in my own life. I'm going to try to tease them out here, and hope that you can help me think this through in the comments.
Read the rest of this post on the O'Reilly Radar.