Input wanted for new tech book

essellar

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Okay, here's the deal.

In response to a whole bunch of questions in threads spread hither and yon throughout the forum, I've decided to write a book. Building Your Site -- the Hard Way (the working title) will attempt to answer a lot of the questions and (hopefully) solve a lot of the problems that are regularly raised on this site.

It won't be a comprehensive tutorial or a step-by-step guide. I don't know what kind of site you want to build, so I can't tell you exactly how to build it. And, really, that's sort of the point of the book.

Among the most common problems here is resource usage -- and that's a problem in any shared hosting environment. When you star with a general-purpose "site platform", like WordPress or a CMS (Drupal, Joomla), then start adding in plugins and third-party tools to make the site you want, you often end up running enough code to support the complete infrastructure of a major multinational corporation -- and that's for a "simple" site for collectors of interesting nineteenth-century moustache wax tins. There is no reason why your little hobby site, or the site for your small business, should be bumping into any sort of limits.

I hope to show people enough to let them build what they need -- no more, but no less -- and leave room to grow. And it will all be geared to working in a shared PHP+MySQL hosting environment with tight resource constraints. That applies to the Free Hosting accounts here at x10Hosting, but will translate perfectly to other hosts and account types as well. And it means that if you are using paid hosting for a business site, you should be able to run your site much more cheaply.

I will be concentrating on principles, and there will be at least as much about the why and wherefore as there is about the how. It's going to be talking about security, usability, accessibility, program design and data organisation. There will be a brief introduction to the basics of HTML, CSS, JavaScript (including a taste of jQuery and AJAX), PHP, relational databases (using MySQL), and how to put it all together using best practices.

I've already written a large swath of the book, but there's a problem: I've been doing this stuff for longer than many of you have been alive. I know what "most people" (even most professionals) don't know and never seem to think about (things like what real security is, what accessibility and usability are all about, and why these things are important), but I don't know what you don't know. It's easy to write a book for intermediate and advanced programmers, but it's hard to write something that's not "dumbed down" for beginners. So I need your help.

What would you like to see in a book like this? Keep in mind that I don't want this to be just another useless "dummies" book -- it's aimed at people who are seriously interested in learning enough to enable their own self-education, without getting them in over their heads too quickly. Any ideas or suggestions will be greatly appreciated.
 

paul-holmes83

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How about a chapter on setting up a home server, something like a wamp server, so people can test their sites before making them go live,
 
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essellar

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That was part of the plan (along with "how to test your app") -- there's nothing quite like coding infinite loops and such to tick off a hosting provider. But that's the sort of feedback I'm after -- if I didn't mention it and it should be in the book, I want to know about it.

Perhaps I should mention that the book (at least an electronic version -- the dead tree ones cost money) will be free to people who make useful suggestions here without repeating something somebody else has already said. And when I say "useful", you should assume that since I've already mentioned security will be a big part of the book, that designing a registration and login scheme is already covered, so suggesting that isn't very useful. Paul will be getting a copy (eventually), since even though I'd planned to include what he'd suggested, I hadn't already mentioned it.
 

Anna

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Don't think I'll need the book, but I think the novice webmasters might need a hint or two on how to use an ftp client.

Seen a few ask "How do I upload my files to the server" (which in some cases would be due to them simply not finding the information) and I've met quiet a few that never had used an ftp client of any kind where I basically had to step them through it.
 

paul-holmes83

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Seen a lot of people ask about htaccess as well, that would probably help me also, because what I have seen on it so far is like a foreign language to me.
 

essellar

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Like it or not, Anna, you'll be getting a copy. It may be a useful resource to recommend (or not -- I'm not expecting staff here, or anyone else, to become my sales force in some kind of twisted quid pro quo scheme; I expect the book to stand or fall on its own merits).
 

descalzo

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Description of caching and why it may cause HRU while not helping your site

Description of SEO plugins and why they might cause HRU. Especially site maps that might have to be regenerated each time you change a page.

Graphics plugins and HRU. ie, make your thumbnails on your computer with GIMP etc and upload them. If the server has to create a thumbnail using GD for every page, it bogs down the server.

Tips for quick loading sites. Smaller graphics, combine/minify/gzip css and js files. Using FireBug or other developer tools (helps finding that your css graphics aren't loading because of a 403 Forbidden because you messed up Hotlink protection).

Basic .htaccess , including how to make cPanel/FTP show hidden files and ErrorDocuments

Are these the type of topics you want?
 

essellar

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They'll do, and there goes another book. Efficiency will play a huge role in the book (the HRU issue was one of the main motivators). CPanel basics (and the "other" common control panel) and error documents (and why custom errordocs are better by far than the default) will be new sections, though. Thanks.
 

descalzo

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Don't forget security. Passwords and little brothers. CAPTCHAs and spam controls. Up to date versions of software (and no warez/nulled scripts, good sources of problems). Software forums as sources of information on how to "harden" a site.
 

essellar

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Don't forget security. Passwords and little brothers. CAPTCHAs and spam controls. Up to date versions of software (and no warez/nulled scripts, good sources of problems). Software forums as sources of information on how to "harden" a site.

Security's already verging on eighty pages. Apart from a short course on the mathematics of crypto, I think I've got that covered, from "Assume everything has already been stolen" (the introductory subsection) to "Trust nobody and nothing" (social hacks and data sanity) to "You must not know what you don't need to know" (passwords and such) to "Don't do crypto without adult supervision" (wherein I destroy security by obscurity). I even touch upon securing sensitive user data (and why you'd want to avoid that whole cesspool if you can) the leakage of which can have criminal consequences under various privacy statutes. I'll only be touching on software and the perils of warez briefly -- the book is aimed at custom development.
 

theone48

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essellar,

That's great news! I know first-hand the value of your knowledge and the have experienced your helpfulness on x10. Though the topics will probably be far over anything in my ability or interest, I'm sure your book will be highly informative.

I happen to already be in the literary field - fiction writer, poet, essayist, editor, reviewer - so I know how difficult it can be to cater to a crowd. There are many factors to consider plus several major hurdles to go through before a book reaches publication. Are you intending to have the book published professionally or is it do-it-yourself, like with a vanity publisher or on Amazon? I can offer you literary advice (no payment necessary) if you like during the process. I believe I understand your original idea correctly in assuming you want it to be a book understandeable to the ordinary man. The best suggestion I can offer in that area is use common vocabulary in your explanations and don't take yourself too seriously. If you wish, I can also proofread and edit as you go; check for grammar errors, ensure consistency and review the best phraseology of it's information. I'll be happy to provide a demo of my ability anytime. Not trying to sell you anything, but the book business is tough; every book has to go through an editor at some point, and they are not known to be kind to the content.

As for what would I like to see in the book: HTML help. Specifically, how to build a website, starting simply from scratch and then modifying and adding stuff. I know an entire book can be written on that subject alone. If you or anyone would like to join me in a collaboration project, I'm open.

The framework for my idea of a web-building book would be simple:

1- Start with a basic website.
2- Build upon it and describe everything all while the real thing is going on. Web or video tutorials could even be made around the book (milk it for all it's worth, eh?), since I'm just starting making a website now and we could follow it until it reaches completion.

But we're going off-topic... Your book: great idea. Hope there's something helpful in it for ordinary dummies, not to mention Xtraordinary ones like me. ;D
 

essellar

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@TheOne: I have a number of technical textbooks under my belt already (I was a college electrical engineering and math instructor somewhere back in the depths of time). I realise that the mass market is a little bit different from a curriculum-bound book (even if I wrote the curriculum myself), but the actual writing and organising is under control. The hard part of that process, actually, will be consistently adopting the ridiculous American (mis)spelling that a non-Commonwealth mass market expects.

The book will be self-published. Please don't confuse self-publishing and print-on-demand with vanity press; they're not the same thing. The vanity press is a scam designed to extract "production costs" from a writer who couldn't be published otherwise, and the only resulting sales is normally a single case of books sold to the writer on top of all of the fees they've paid to have them printed. I'm sure there are a lot of deluded self-professed writers uploading horrible Word documents to PoP houses like lulu.com, too, but at least they're not being hurt by the deal -- they only take a cut of sales if and when any sales happen.

That doesn't mean it won't be edited and proofread, but it does mean that I get to set the price (the eBook will be at a third-world accessible price; the dead tree version just above cost unless you buy it at a bookstore) and that I have ultimate control over typesetting (I use TeX/LaTeX and am a stickler for design and typography) and graphics. It also means I don't need to rely on Tim O'Reilly's opinion of whether or not there's a viable market for a book like this. It's aimed specifically at the sort of people who use free and low-cost (okay, really cheap) hosting, and I have serious doubts that many of them are going to be spending the typical US$50-100 on a computer book, but they may be willing to pay 99 cents for an eBook or maybe $18 for the dead tree version (and I won't have to get all upset at all the money I'm losing on torrented PDFs if I'm not plannng to make a fortune).

And no, the book will not be a step-by-step. If I do that, you learn how to build the site that's in the book, not the site you need. There are plenty of books already that do that disservice to their readers; the world doesn't need another one. I'll teach you how to think about what you want and build that.
 

theone48

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@TheOne: The book will be self-published. Please don't confuse self-publishing and print-on-demand with vanity press; they're not the same thing. The vanity press is a scam designed to extract "production costs" from a writer who couldn't be published otherwise, and the only resulting sales is normally a single case of books sold to the writer on top of all of the fees they've paid to have them printed. I'm sure there are a lot of deluded self-professed writers uploading horrible Word documents to PoP houses like lulu.com, too, but at least they're not being hurt by the deal -- they only take a cut of sales if and when any sales happen.

...And no, the book will not be a step-by-step. If I do that, you learn how to build the site that's in the book, not the site you need. There are plenty of books already that do that disservice to their readers; the world doesn't need another one. I'll teach you how to think about what you want and build that.


essellar,

yes, I see you've found out some of those hard things about industry for yourself. That's good, the more experience the better, in any profession or field.

About the step by step, I believe it depends on how advanced a user is and how they think about the learning experience. eg. for me, I like to have something step by step I can follow and then configure to my own standard. It's not that I go along with the thing, it's just that it provides a framework for me to better understand what I'm doing. I believe many see it the same way, hence the market for step-by-step guides.

Good luck on your book and let us know when it comes out.


Edit: I happen to be fluent in American English so if you decide at anytime you want someone on the outside to proof, edit and review the book, I'm available. $100 is my non-negotiable flat rate fee for all service provided, (to be payed upon satisfactory completion of task, or upon publication; whichever you prefer). If for any reason you are not satisfied, there is no charge. Fonts, typesets and appearance are solely your discretion; I only handle editorial grammar, spelling, and composition issues. You can request a free demonstration anytime.
 
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essellar

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Apart from this...

HTML:
<!DOCTYPE your_doctype_here>
<html lang="your language code here" charset="your character set here>
  <head>
    <title>Your Page Title Here</title>
    <!-- other head content here -->
  </head>
  <body>
    <!-- your site content here -->
  </body>
</html>

... it's all custom. That's the whole "general framework"; everything else depends entirely upon the kind of site you want to create. (And even that framework is too specific, since there is a perverse generation of people who think that XHTML, a species of XML that looks a little like HTML but is structurally incompatible with ordered document content, is a good idea. They're wrong, and for a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this thread, but one must make allowances.)

Again, if I do a step-by-step, you learn how to build what I'm building -- and that's only good if you want to build what I built. If you learn how to think about your site as "chunks" of information and learn how to gather, store and present information in the way that makes the most sense to your application, then you can build anything you want, and it will work a lot better and use fewer resources than something you Frankenstein together (which, really, is what the CMS + plugins world boils down to).

The whole point of this exercise is to get people building small, fast, efficient applications while making them as robust and secure as they can be. That will involve sample code, of course, and exercises, but there is no such thing as a "general purpose website", so I can't show you how to make one.
 
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theone48

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Yes, well unfortunately, I don't know enough of HTML to even build a blank page. For some of us, a step by step is a means to an end, yet definately not the end. A person must learn the basics first and feel comfortable with it before proceeding on to complexities.
 

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Hi, I have been part of x10 hosting for 15 days. The information is there but it is like chasing your tail: there's an excellent change you won't catch it. Keep in mind my comments come from one to whom you need to "dummy down" big time. I've read all FAQ's, the stickies of all forums, and x10 hosting WIKI. I am also enrolled in a web school, so I am serious. After scourring the site, I think:

YOUR BOOK IS A MARVELOUS IDEA. I NEED IT NOW!

Most beginner books I have read are indeed for beginners, but in a well written "how-to book," there's something for everyone, regardless of level of expertise. sort of a back to the basics approach. I have also noted that good texts do not weigh that much. They are concise with lots of illustrations, practical examples and nugget

In my opinion, your concern (or question) about gauging your readers level of knowledge is key.

Accordingly, one might:
1. Begin each chapter with a list the things you assume the reader knows and then links to research them. As an alternative, you could list the links or referenes in the text. A glossary would help.
2. Depending on the organization of the book, you might have appendices that demonstrate increasingly complex sites. These would not be a step by step tutorials, but rather illustrations of several pages of each site with discussion of tools used in their creation.
3. Based on my early experience at x10, I would welcome a section on site etiquette
Again, perhaps an appendix would suffice.

It sounds like you are already on your way. Hurry along (I need this book!) and good luck!

Don Goin
 

essellar

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Thanks, Don. I'll need a time machine and a couple of pots of really strong coffee to get the book to you right now, but you've given me a couple of organisational ideas that just earned you a copy. I'm trying not to write The Art of Computer Programming, but I've already left the shirt-pocket reference world behind. Editing should get it down to something that can be a comprehensive learners tool that can be worked through (and thoroughly understood) in a month (assuming nobody's dumb enough to try to learn everything, and retain it, in a single cram session), but will also serve as a reference for non-beginners. By the time it's indexed, the print version should weigh in at about the 4-500-page mark (which, honestly, is pretty sparse for what I intend to cover). The e-version will weigh considerably less.
 

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Personally speaking the hard stuff will come with time if people are willing to learn, the most difficult part initially was actually getting everything setup, I have been in IT for 20 years but I come from a hardware world and software is an entirely new thing for me to get my head around.
I managed to muddle my way through a lot of things, but there doesnt seem to be a single definitive resource out there that gives you a start in getting your website to a live environment.
I started and maybe the wrong the round, but I set up an apache server then all of the sudden found that html was a tiny part of it all. A good piece about differentiating server and client side would be useful, from html I was led very quickly to php and it was a little confusing.
I am more than happy to roll my sleeves up and get dirty and have probably gone off on all sorts of tangents, so some sort of order / pointers would I am sure help out many a willing learner.
 

cybrax

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Sounds like most things are being covered.. but these may be worth a note someplace

By far the most common question asked here is "Why was my site suspended", obviously this is no great loss for a free hosting account but often many novice webmasters appear blissfuly ignorant that many of the same rules apply to paid hosting wherever they go such as (no Warez, file hosting, phishing etc) and paying for hosting does not give them immunity.

Then there's the legal can of worms, whilst 'Hobby' sites are granted a certain amount of leeway those clearly running a business website have to abide by certain rules such as image useage and postal contact information to name but a few I've lost count the number of clients with a business who have asked me to remove watermarks from images they found on the web
 
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