Use CSS background:rbga to Darken Background Photos For Improved UX

If you’ve been to any new websites lately, you’ll know that parallax scrolling and large background images are incredibly popular right now. They’re great because they are able to help better tell stories, with big, gorgeous photos on the background and relevant text in the foreground overlaying those images as you scroll. In addition, responsive design means that the text overlaying these photos can move around. One of the challenges in this is that you’re likely to run into an issue where you have the text the same color as the image behind it. There are a couple of ways to deal with this, but let me show you my personal favorite.
There is a relatively newer CSS property that you can apply to a background where you can overlay it with a color and specify the opacity (seethrough-ness). Using this is a great way to darken the background just enough to make white text more readable and pop. Here’s an example of the before and after shot on my blog:

How Using jQuery’s $.get() Can Cause Subtle Bugs in Single Page Apps

While working with a single page app I inherited the other day, I ran upon a few very subtle bugs where I would save data on the screen and it would update in some places, but look like it wasn’t being updated in others. It was maddening, and it ended up just being the difference between getting information from the server via the $.ajax() function vs the $.get() function, which I’ll explain after the break.  Subtle bugs are the worst, but they’re even harder when you’re using a lower level library like jQuery to build a single-page webapp when there are special-built libraries like Angular.js, Ember, and Knockout designed specifically for this purpose. Even still, sometimes you may want to use jQuery to add some dynamic-ness to your app, so I won’t judge!  If you do, you HAVE to remember this difference: (more…)

3 Ways to Web Test that will Change Your Life

As a web developer, it’s important to make sure our web apps and sites have a great experience for users no matter what browser they’re using. One of the ways we can do that is adhering to web standards. When we don’t write standards-compliant code and markup, we’re basically betting that all browsers will just magically guess what we meant and somehow do the right thing.  Once you’ve run your markup through, and made sure to use feature detection instead of browser sniffing, which doesn’t work anymore, the next step is to test on actual browsers.  If you only have a Mac, though, how do you even go about testing IE in the first place?  For starters, that sounds expensive…getting a Windows license, maybe hardware, not to mention different OS licenses for IE11, IE9, etc.  What if I told you that you can test IE for FREE (any OS/version combination that’s relevant today)?  Here’s 2 different ways how: (more…)

Productizing Software Components

One of the most fun things as a software developer is building really awesome components and APIs that other developers will use.  With the current popularity of Github that capitalizes on this love, and with NuGet, we’ve seen an explosion in the ability for components to become popular and be reused by other developers.  The only problem is that this trend is lagging behind in the enterprise.  On top of that, reusable modules in the enterprise setting typically consist of random project references using svn:externals (yea, I didn’t know what that was either, but apparently some people use it for dependency management), .dll includes from who knows where, or worse.  Components may seem awesome to the developer that made them, but are they really reusable?  The true test of reusability and maintainability is after you’re gone, when there’s no documentation and someone new has to use (or worse, modify) the code.  That’s why I’m proposing you productize your components.  Here’s how… (more…)

[MSBuild output] CSC : fatal error CS2008: No inputs specified

Today I was setting up an automated build using TeamCity and came across an issue where the build of the solution kept failing.  The only reason that was given was this:

[MSBuild output] CSC : fatal error CS2008: No inputs specified

Turns out that MSBuild actually fails the whole build when you’re running it from the command line like this if there’s not a file that it can build.  The project in question was actually just full of XML and configuration files that other projects referenced and got published with a NuGet package to our private feed.  To fix it, I just added a simple .cs file, so that MSBuild had something to do.  🙂

Here’s the code:

[syntax type=”html|php|js|css”]

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Text;

namespace Configuration
class MSBuildBugFix
// MSBuild has a bug where if no source files are found, the build fails when
// running from the commandline (or in our case, TeamCity). This file is only here
// to allow the build to complete.



IE11 Brings Long-Awaited, All-New Developer Tools for Single Page Apps

Today at Build 2013, Microsoft announced IE11 that ships with Windows 8.1.  Actually, before I go any further, I want to say that they should have named this release Internet Explorer 12. Like a smart kid that skips a grade in school, this version brings so many features (WebGL!!!!) in compatability, performance and an all-new completely awesome dev tools (yes, you heard me right!), that they should just skip to the next version number.  This is literally the version of IE that developers have been screaming for since IE8.  I’m not kidding.  For the first time in a long time, IE is now a DEVELOPER’s browser. From IE9, MS has focused on performance and interoperability to the point where developing a standards-compliant site literally means it just works (99.9% of the time in IE).  In fact, JQuery 2.0 now has more fixes to support bad standards implementations in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox than IE (true story). Here are my favorite updates for IE11: (more…)

How the Xbox One lost me, and then won me back with 24-Hour DRM and the cloud.

I love my Xbox 360.  Or, 360s, I should say.  I’ve had 4 over the last 8 years with some dying and some traded in for newer models.   I’m an Xbox fan, but mostly, I’m a fan of technology and progress (and my PS3, too).  I love console release years because of all the new upgrades, and especially the graphics.  This is the first real year where we’ve had innovation in the online space by everyone, and it’s very exciting.  This week I was appalled by the 24 hour check-in.  I even tweeted that I’d cancel my preorder if they kept it.  I was serious. Here’s how Xbox won me back. (more…)

IE10 on Windows 7: Happiness for the Web

Today is a great day for the Web.  IE10 has officially been released for Windows 7 (Sorry, XP, you’re what, 12 years old now?).  This release will play a significant role in getting the majority of the web up to the latest version of Internet Explorer, which is THE release we’ve been waiting for as web developers for years now.  IE “just works”.  With huge strides in interoperability, a 60% increase in supported web standards over IE9, IE10 allows you to write standards compliant HTML and JavaScript and know that it’ll work across all modern browser, including IE10.   This DRASTICALLY reduces development time for web applications and makes the web the best platform for delivering apps (IMHO, of course).  Not to mention it’s the fastest browser on Windows 7 now.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Ok, now that IE10 is standards compliant, there’s no more excuses for web developers.  It’s now on US to write standards-compliant code.  If we do things like checking for IE across the board and serve up IE7 JavaScript, then you are making the web worse, not IE.  If we were to check for Chrome, and run a totally Chrome-specific version of code, that would be unnecessary complexity, and a degraded user experience.  Nowadays, the best practice is feature detection.  By that, I mean doing checks like “does this browser support feature X?” instead of “Is this browser IE9?” Even checking for a particular version can introduce issues if there is a bug or a patch that comes out mid-stream, for example.  So, make sure you use things like Modernizr to ensure you check for features specifically.  In addition, this makes your code work better across even MORE browsers, not just IE, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari.

IE 10 Auto-updates Incoming

Most users will auto-update to IE10 over the coming weeks/months, though if you’re on Windows 7 and want to get rolling sooner (like, now), then you can download IE10 here.  If you want to have a little fun, go play Minesweeper (yes, THAT Minesweeper) in IE9 and look at the performance, then go download IE10 and check it out to see the performance improvement.

Happy browsing!

Thoughts on Internet Explorer in 2013

Recently I was re-awarded for my third year as a Microsoft MVP for the IE category focusing on web development.  I occasionally joke (no offence, IE team!), that IE is the least fun category for an MVP.  IE takes a lot of flak over its history of IE6.  The internet is riddled with folks who hate IE because it’s fun, or so it seems, but honestly I think the majority are people who have been burned in the past.  Developers under a deadline who have been directed to make their site work with all browsers, only to realize that they’re spending a majority of their time writing THE SAME FEATURE 6 different times for not just Chrome, Firefox, and IE, but Chrome, Firefox, IE6, IE7, IE8, IE9…  See how that feels?  It hurts.  It’s depressing.  The majority of my projects where I’ve worked late nights are because of compatibility issues and checking browser versions.  I honestly believe the IE team is trying to make things right.  The IE MVPs are mostly web developers who have been through the same thing as the rest of the web development community and regularly voice their concerns.  I was lucky enough to become an MVP right before IE9.  IE9 was the turning point, but there was too much lost ground in the standards race.  While time will only tell if IE can shake their IE6 legacy and repair the damage done to the hearts of developers worldwide, I’m going to list a few things the IE team is doing right, wrong, and areas for improvement. (more…)


Startup Weekend in Johnson City, TN – Nov 16-18, 2012

The thing I love about Startups is that it’s the combination of two things I enjoy: technology and business.  I’m excited to announce that I’ll be acting as a coach and mentor for the event!  Startup Weekend coincides with Global Entrepreneurship Week, where events will take place all over the world to help educate people about entrepreneurship and help businesses get started.  Here’s the official press release and the Startup Weekend Tri-Cities’ website:

AccelNow, the Northeast Tennessee regional accelerator, will hold a “Start-up Weekend Tri-Cities” on November 16, 17 and 18.

The weekend event is one of the entrepreneurial approaches that is becoming widely used in Tennessee and other cities.

Dave Lawrence, AccelNow Director, described the three-days as “a hands-on experience where entrepreneurs and those exploring entrepreneurship can find out if their start-up ideas are viable.” Based on national averages, attendees at start-up weekends are evenly divided between those with technical or design backgrounds and those who have business backgrounds.

Lawrence said the “Start-up Weekend Tri-Cities” will begin at 6 p.m. Friday at East Tennessee State University’s College of Business and Technology with registration in Brown Hall Auditorium and sessions in Sam Wilson Hall. The planners are specifically interested in those contemplating web-based or phone app development although all entrepreneurs can attend.

Friday evening’s session kicks-off with open microphone pitches where attendees bring their best ideas and try to inspire others to join their team. Teams form that night before day one adjourns at 10 p.m. During the next two days, the teams will focus on developing customers, validating their ideas, and using LEAN Startup Methodologies to build a minimal viable product.

The event concludes Sunday with teams demonstrating their prototypes and receiving feedback from a panel of experts. The hours on Saturday are 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.