Monthly Archives: October 2015

Not Ninjas, Just Programmers

  var ninja = {
    sneakAround: function() {...},
    strikeFromShadows: function() {...},
    writeStableWebApp: function() {...}

Terms like JavaScript ninja or JavaScript wizard tend to make me uneasy. They suggest a set of priorities in programming that I would argue are counterproductive. To begin discussing why, let’s refer to some definitions:

  • ninja [nin-juh], noun: a member of a feudal Japanese society of mercenary agents, highly trained in martial arts and stealth (ninjutsu) who were hired for covert purposes ranging from espionage to sabotage and assassination.
  • wizard [wiz-erd], noun: a person who practices magic; magician or sorcerer.

I wouldn’t consider any of the qualities implied here as important, or even attractive, in software development. Why would anyone want code to be stealthy? Or covert? Or magic? Glorifying these qualities betrays an attitude that shifts focus away from the software we build to the cleverness of the code that’s used to build it. Exploiting syntactic idiosyncrasies in novel ways or displaying one’s knowledge of the esoteric details of a language takes priority over creating robust, maintainable applications. It’s programming as performance, rather than programming as craft.

Continue reading Not Ninjas, Just Programmers

From Web to WebGL: A Guide for Web Developers Entering the Third Dimension

WebGL is an interesting technology in that its community has brought together developers from highly disparate backgrounds. On the one hand, there are 3D graphics programmers who know the GPU architecture, the math, the algorithms, and who previously wrote their software in close-to-the-metal languages like C or C++, generally with OpenGL or D3D as the graphics API. For them, the path to WebGL involves learning the idiosyncrasies and limitations of JavaScript, as well as the best practices of working with the Web as a platform. On the other hand, there are those, like me, with a background in web development who want to use WebGL to build their sites or web applications. I should be clear here that I’m not referring to web developers who just want to get a bit of 3D into their web sites, as can be done with the myriad libraries and frameworks currently available. Rather, I’m referring to those who want to understand and use WebGL at a deep level. This, I would argue, is a far more difficult path than that taken by the graphics programmers and involves developing an understanding of the following three major areas involved in WebGL programming:

  • The WebGL API: The programming model and how it models the GPU
  • 3D Mathematics: Primarily linear algebra and 3D geometry
  • 3D Algorithms: The various techniques used to produce images and optimize their rendering

Continue reading From Web to WebGL: A Guide for Web Developers Entering the Third Dimension