Archive | JavaScript

Better as ECMAScript, the client-side runtime engine of the world’s browsers.

Please stay on the line, as calls are answered in the order in which they are received

Astute fans may have noticed the site seems to be having a little trouble. Yup. The site became non-responsive the morning of 20-Nov-2014, and the usual actions had little effect. There were few clues in the logs nor diagnostics easily pulled from the software. To get up and running quickly, I did the famous “WordPress 5 minute Install” and restored the essential configuration. I’ll be restoring the usual theme, fonts, plugins and assets (pictures, links, videos, etc.) from backups as time allows.

Thank you for your understanding.

Notes from Feb 25th Web Dev Meeting: Brian Cardarella on Ember.js

The Portsmouth Web Dev meetup is hosted at Alpha Loft in Portsmouth. This month there were two meetings: Ember on the 25th and Lightning talks on the 26th. On the 25th was the first, with Brian Cardarella of giving the main presentation on Ember.js.

Brian started with a bit of a history lesson. Ember spun off of SproutCore from Strobe. SproutCore 1.0 suffered from the slow (at the time) JavaScript runtimes and overly-complex UI widgets, resulting in a poor user experience. The 2.0 branch was started and Yehuda Katz (core contributor, Rails, jQuery and more) and Carl ??? and pushed off UI elements to focus on the core and on speed.

The run loop is the core event loop engine of Ember, and code in Ember can enqueue new items onto the loop, which continues to loop as long as there are items to be processed. There is great documentation in the Ember Guides, and a good video overview. Brian suggests that the Ember Starter Kit is just that, a good way to get started, but likely not appropriately robust for a professional application.

Enough background, we jumped into and Brian commenced live coding in Ember to demonstrate how the Ember application essentially hooks into the body tag of the DOM and can read and write elements from there. He showed how actions could be triggered by observed changes, that setters and getters were required for property manipulation.

Ember has its own form of MVC (doesn’t everything?) where Models are business rules containers, and Controllers are contexts in which your interactions with models occurs, essentially acting as proxies. Views are nearly becoming deprecated as their functionality is being replaced with HTML5 Web Components (there’s currently a polyfill for these called polymer.) Routes are similar to Rails with nesting. URLs can be considered a state manager for an Ember app, so two users see the same thing at the same URL, unlike some other JS frameworks. There is an Ember Inspector for Chrome and FireFox that allows you to dive deep into the View Tree, Routes and Data for debugging. Excellent peer support is available on IRC at emberjs and emberjs-dev.

Brian and Dockyard have built Ember-AppKit-Rails as a gem to create a shared directory for an Ember app and its Rails backend. Note this is Very Beta, Somewhat Experimental and may be abandoned. You have been warned. Brian explained there are not yet any Best Practices worked out, so different attempts have been tried. Side-by-side projects where the two are separate may turn out to be a better design; Brian is looking at Ember AppKit [Update: Deprecated, but URL updated for reference]. Ember is designed to deal with different backends, depending on their API syntax. The one he was using was ActiveModelAdaptor, build to work with Rails.

An excellent question on “Where do you do validation?” And the answer: pretty much everywhere. Brian is the author of ClientSideValidations and has some experience with this. He tried something similar with Ember but points out that the context of the front end and backends can be so different that the validations aren’t necessarily the same.

Brian then proceeded to do a demonstration of an under-development project by Dockyard and even in its early stages, it appeared pretty promising.

Brian recommended downloading Ember, reading through the Guides, and taking some time to learn the components. Promises are a key element to the Ember framework and are worth reviewing; ECMAScript 6 will have promises built in. Handlebars, the templating language, is expected to be replaced by HTMLBars in the next major revision. Best practices and calling conventions (especially error/exception/validation handling) are still up in the air; check out for some work on this front.

So, we had an action-packed, fact-filled, acronym-filled session with a lot of good material and an excellent overview of the state of Ember and its promising future. Thanks for Brian for speaking and for Josh Cyr, Alpha Loft proprietor, for hosting!


Blog optimization update: WordPress, CDN, Speed, Caching, Accessibility

Keep Calm and Clear Cache

Keep Calm

I’ve continued to do some research on optimizing the blog responsiveness, and I’m pleased with the results. Anecdotal tests this morning, with no local caching, showed a 2 second load time with a 1.2 second DOMLoaded event. That’s pretty good. Here are a few notes on things I’ve been working on:

  • Google’s PageSpeed Tools offered some helpful insights.
  • Minifying some of the text assets – HTML, CSS, and JavaScript – is working well, though I’d like to be more easily able to toggle this for debuggng.
  • Using the Rackspace CloudFiles caching with WordPress lacks a good automated tool on the WordPress side to keep the cache synced with changes. I’ve been using the SuperCache plugin for local speedups, and it supports a variety of CDNs. The CDN-Sync-Tool plugin is no longer available on the site, and several forks on GitHub all seem to be out of date. It’s unclear, so far, where the problem is. The WP cron jobs are failing. Whether that’s an internal configuration problem, or unsupported calls to an old API, I haven’t worked out yet. Next time I try this, I’ll look at some deeper pilot testing for CDNs with better WordPress support.
  • Inspired by “Why Bother with Accessibilty” by Laura Kalbag, part of the excellent 24ways series, I did some initial accessibility testing. The WAVE Web Accessibility Evaluation Tool tests your site for accessibility, an essential feature these days. Accessibility makes your site more understandable and easier to navigate for all users. Disabilities aren’t someone else’s problems; they are a state we will all pass through at one stage or another.There are a few glitches in my templates that I will work to rectify. A larger problem s the observation that my style choices have lead to a rather low-contrast site.

Notes from Seacoast WordPress Developers Group, 4-Dec-2013

Seven people attended the December meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Developers group, held at the AlphaLoft coworking space in Portsmouth, NH. The main topic was “Best Business Practices,” which was a great topic but, as always, the conversations and netwokring and recommendations that went on around the main topic were also very helpful and informative. Among those tidbits:

  • The Ewww image optimizer can reduce the size of images and speed webpage loading with minimal quality change.
  • Matt Mullenweg delivers an annual “State of the Word” speech with lots of interesting insights.
  • Open question: What topics would YOU like to learn about? The group is about YOU. How can we get YOU to attend?
  • Which SEO are people familiar with? WordPress SEO by Yoast was the most popular mentioned
  • Question on speeding sites, and a recommendation for the P3 Plugin Performance Profiler

On to the main topic: “Best Business Practices” can easily degenerate into a “Client Horror Stories” session. Kudos to organizer Amanda Giles for keeping a tight rein on the discussions and getting us to focus on covering as much as possible. Andy provided a redacted proposal he had written up for a client and we reviewed and discussed it. There was a lot of good back and forth. Andy had some very insightful item in his proposal that made it clear what the client would see at each phase, what items were optional or deferred to a later project phase, and how client decisions could affect the outcome in terms of schedule and cost. This was a great launching point for a lot of discussion on terms, contracts (my stance: pay a lawyer for a few hours to draft a good contract!), how to handle open-ended items like design reviews and never-ending revisions, terms for stock photos and graphics, and so forth. The discussion was very worthwhile and everyone felt they had their questions answered and learned a few new things. What more can you ask for a meeting?

Our next two meetings are scheduled for TUESDAY (not the normal meeting night) January 7th and Wednesday, February 5th. Please consider joining the Meetup group to keep up on the details on upcoming meetings.


New post testing CDN support on WordPress

DSCN1940 So, the Content Distribution Network is in place and several tests indicate it is working well — page loads are much faster, the URLs of the CDN content are re-written properly — but the next question is whether new materials will be automatically added to the CDN. The picture at the left (and yes, this is an excuse to post a cute dog picture, too) should appear with a link to the high-resolution (1.8 Mb) image. On the blog itself, that link should be of the format, while if the picture is picked up by the CDN synchronization software, it should upload to the CDN and the URL be rewritten to Let’s try it out and see what happens…

Woah. Success first time. Pretty cool.

Some details on what I’ve got set up: I’m using the Rackspace Cloud Files service as the CDN. I had worked with Rackspace before on some hosting projects, and have a friend working there, so I thought I’d try them out first. It appears that their CDN services are in an early stage and don’t have all of the features of soe of the more mature products. In particular, it appears that the blog software is reponsible for pushing any new or updated content to the CDN. By contrast, the Amazon S3 offering has an ‘origin pull’ feature that will pull content from the original source when it is first requested, and subsequently cache it.

In order to get the contents of my local blog to sync with the CDN, I added the CDN-Sync-Tool plugin. A lot of web searching seemed to indicate I could find this in the WordPress Plugins directory online, but the tool has been pulled from the directory. Apparently, it is undergoing some redevelopment. The version I found was on GitHub under and installation was not more complex that downloading the ZIP and unzipping it in the plugins folder. Bear in mind that you should be comfortable with using the command line and have the skills to review the files you are installing on your machine, as there has been no review by the WordPress folks, and the code is currently under development and you may need to deal with bugs, incompatibilities and support problems. So, this isn’t the path I’d recommend for less-technical WordPress developers, and likely isn’t the path I’d recommend for a client looking to put a CDN into production use.

Note that most cache programs and their CDN features are set up in such a way that logged-in users may see a slower site, but more up-to-date, site, and that in order to test caching you’ll need to log out of your WordPress session.



Seacoast WordPress notes, October 2, 2013

The October meeting of the Seacoast WordPress Meetup was held on October 2, 2013, at the AlphaLoft coworking space. Thanks to owner Josh for encouraging groups to use the space!

Of course, you never get techies together when they don’t just jump into talking about what they’re up to! We had a question on using Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) to improve responsiveness for an international site. David talked about his experience with CloudFlare. A quick Google showed that there were a number of plugins that claim to offer some CDN functionality, and that initial offers the member had gotten might have been inflated.

David also showed the Dynamik theme add-on to the Genesis theme that generates a set of media queries to support mobile devices.

We started off the more formal meeting with a round of introductions: Amanda, Chris, me, Jim, Laurel, Dylan, David, Andy, Tina, and Tom.

Off we go into questions and comments. One member did some troubleshooting of a plugin-laden site using P3, the plugin performance profiler. Others offered their opinions that excessive plugin use can be the source of a lot of compatibility and/or performance problems.

The main presentation of the evening was from Amanda Giles and the Canvas theme from Woo Themes. Wow! This theme can do a lot, lay out in a number of different ways, and has great administrative functions off the dashboard to make lots and lots of changes from within the interface, and not having to fork off a child theme and mess with the code directly. The Premium theme is $119 for developer version or $99 basic. Both include a year of support and upgrades. The Developer version includes PSD files for designers to customize the theme in PhotoShop. A yearly upgrade is obviously what Woo would like everyone to do (who wouldn’t?) but Amanda indicated it’s okay to stick with the version you buy in perpetuity or until they come out with a compelling feature you want.

The number of features were remarkable. Here are a few I remembered to record: easy file structure, lots of hooks, extensive admin functions, support for short codes. Amanda set up a website for attendees to follow along with the various pages of the dashboard and do a little experimenting. Obviously, the access can’t be made public to the entire internet. See We worked our way through many the Canvas options, for an hour! If you don’t have Photoshop, check out for an online utility that will do many of the basic functions.

Woo Themes also includes “templates” within the theme that allows more complex layouts: Magazine has a full-width slider, followed by full-width article, followed by a grid of articles. Also, a second template, Business, with a different layout.

In the header of the Woo Themes dashboard, “View Theme Documentation” takes you to the WooThemes web pages of documentation, which are extensive!

Amanda reminded us that WordCamp Boston will be happening at the NERD Center October 25-27. Well worth the effort to attend. Seacoast WordPress folks will try to get together for a birds-of-a-feather session or lunch; watch the Meetup group for details.


Calculate your BMI using Wolfram Alpha

Harness the power of the Wolfram Alpha computational engine to see how your height/weight ranks against the currently-accepted BMI calculations and populations:

[wolframalphawidget id=”bd2271d0eb320a2e2f27536bce47b91d” ]

Wolfram Alpha provides a WordPress plugin that allows the WordPress author to use a shortcode to place a widget in a post. There’s also (separate) support for putting a Wolfram Alpha widget inside a WordPress sidebar or widget. There’s a gallery with lots of pre-created widgets and an interface to create your own. Pretty cool.

Note that you need to specify the units (“lb” for pounds, “in” for inches, or 5′ 7.5″ for typical foot-inches height expressions) otherwise the widget seems to make some really poor choices, deciding that weight of 67 means aged 67 years.


Keeping up: theme changes

Astute readers (and I know who you two are!) will notice a change to a newer theme. I’ve switched over to the WordPress Twenty-Eleven base theme, with a few of my own tucks, nips and tweaks. I wanted to check out the new theme and test out the new functionality and keep up with the latest stuff.

Child themes are a piece of cake to create, and a child theme lets me override the original without messing with the original source, so updates will not erase the changes. While they are not so difficult to do manually if you are familiar with the command-line, they are even easier with the plugin One-Click Child Theme.

With the child theme in place, I was able to shorten the gap between the site description (the motto) and the header picture, just by adding CSS to the style.css in the child theme (that’s the cascading part of CSS). I added a paper-curl edge effect based on the work of Craig Buckler, published on Sitepoint.

I was disappointed that my site was not valid HTML5, according to the W3C’s validator site. Category tags used in REL links aren’t standard, so I deleted those. The Creative Commons plugins want to use Dublin Core XML namespaces, and there are issues there I’ve got to clean up. And the “generator” REL tag on the bottom of the page isn’t too standard, either. Overall, though, the pages are relatively clean of excessive markup or poorly-formed structures. Stay tuned as I tweak the last few elements into line.


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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.