Learning Gulp? Start here.

My only beef with Bleeding Edge Press is that I was asked to review Developing a gulp Edge after I had already spent weeks pouring over documentation, github issues, and StackOverflow questions ad nauseam while trying to learn Gulp on my own. Developing a Gulp Edge is the book with which I should have started.

This book covers all the Gulp basics by having the reader create and run standard tasks in a demo application, publicly available on github. Anyone familiar with build systems will find common case examples aplenty in this book, from SASS compilation, JavaScript concatenation, linting, watching, etc. Each example clearly covers the gulp plugins necessary to accomplish each task, and examples build on each other as the reader progresses.

The real value of this book, however, lies in the fact that it helps the reader navigate a rapidly shifting Gulp landscape by identifying community-blessed alternatives to blacklisted plugins, such as gulp-browserify. This, more than anything else, caused me a great deal of confusion when I initially started using gulp. Google search results lack historical context, so articles that often appeared first in search results actually delivered bad or outdated advice. This book avoids all that by keeping the reader on the straight-and-narrow, by explaining why certain practices have been abandoned in favor of others.

The last three chapters are particularly strong. They move the reader beyond basics into advanced Gulp automation. This includes tasks which enrich the development environment itself, such as running a development server, syncing browsers across devices, and automatic cache busting. The reader is also shown how to speed up builds with caches, so that continuous integration processes and watches run as fast as possible.

The last chapter is a full tutorial on building custom Gulp plugins. This is where the authors really lets it all hang out, as the reader is introduced to vinyl File objects, through streams and buffer manipulation techniques. Once the reader has finished implementing each example he is left with a useful plugin accompanied by unit tests, a code coverage implementation, and a Travis CI configuration–all project features that the Gulp community strongly encourages, nay outright demands, of any Gulp plugin author or contributor.

Developing a Gulp Edge has a single Appendix containing a long and very useful list of Gulp plugins for most any development task imaginable. I will refer to this Appendix often, and with fondness.

While this book does have a few spelling and grammatical errors its overall style is clean, friendly, and concise, and the content is structured quite well. Each chapter, each example, builds on previous knowledge in such a way that reader has a strong grasp on what Gulp is, what it does, and how to leverage it for daily use.

A Book Apart sponsors STL ALT.NET

When I ask my web UI friends what resources they would recommend to a n00b looking to develop his HTML and CSS chops, the near universal answer is to direct me to the wonderful websites A List Apart and its publishing arm, A Book Apart.  For years these websites have been delivering high-quality, non-trivial articles and books on front-end web development and design.  They are universally acknowledged as accurate, if not authoritative, sources of knowledge, and have been a tremendous help to me in my professional career.

A Book Apart has graciously donated one copy of each book in the Complete A Book Apart Library to be raffled during the next several months at STL ALT .NET meetings:

Each volume is a concise and fresh take on an important field in web design. Jeremy Keith’s HTML5 for Web Designers explores what the web’s new lingua franca means for working designer/developers. Dan Cederholm’s CSS3 for Web Designers shows how you can design for the experience layer today. Erin Kissane’s The Elements of Content Strategyexplains where content strategy came from, and how you can do it well. Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design demonstrates CSS techniques and design principles for crafting fluid, responsive websites. Aarron Walter’s Designing for Emotion will teach you how to you make your users fall in love with your site, while Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First will make you a master of mobile, and improve your desktop designs, too. 

Mobile First and Responsive Web DesignI personally own digital copies of each book in this series, and I’ve finished three of six.  Of particular interest to me were Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design and Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First.  Both of these books take a long look at the current state of mobile web development, and make a compelling argument that not only should developers be aware of the issues and technologies involved with the mobile web, but they should be coding their websites to take advantage of those things right now.  Mobile first design — once onerous in CSS2 and HTML4 — is becoming the standard design approach as mobile phones and tablets saturate the consumer market.  Mobile First makes the technological and business cases for embracing the mobile web, while Responsive Web Design shows how this can be achieved with fluid layouts, flexible images, and CSS3 media queries.

I have nothing but the highest opinion for A Book Apart, and I am excited that STL ALT .NET members will get to experience this awesomicity as well!

Sad day for Borders

Borders Bookstore has long been close to my heart.  With good coffee, free Wi-Fi, a relaxing atmosphere, and a great selection of books, it became one of my de facto hangouts for meeting with friends or studying in high school.  Unfortunately Borders filed for Chapter 11 yesterday and will be closing 30% of its brick and mortar stores–three of which are in the St. Louis area.

  • Ballwin (1535S-A Manchester Rd.)
  • Chesterfield (2040 Chesterfield Mall)
  • St. Peters (1320 Mid Rivers Mall)

Fortunately my default Borders, the Creve Coeur location, remains open for business, but it’s sad to see the bookstore chain languishing in hard times.  Of all the bookstore giants in the area (including Barnes & Noble and Books-a-Million), Borders has, by far, the best computer, philosophy, and literature selections–the three topics I am most interested in.

If you want to check the status of Borders stores near you, the Wall Street Journal has published a comprehensive list.

Books for Christmas

Santa was very good to me this year, expanding my bookshelf by several awesome volumes.

2010 Christmas Books