Web Development In 2011 Part 2: Are We Getting Dumber?

Web Development In 2011 Part 2: Are We Getting Dumber?

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Before I start my small discussion on “Are We Getting Dumber”, let me just say that there is yet even more kick ass things that have come out since I wrote the first part of this little series. Sass 3.1.0 came out, and is going by the name of Brainy Betty. It added some neat stuff to its already great ability, like getting the inverse of a color, Sass based functions, keyword arguments, and more. Granted I probably won’t use a lot of it, but it is still cool that it has been updated. You can read about the improvements it received on Sass’ changelog. Just to note as well, Haml and Sass have been separated into two different gems, so you can install them independently now.

Compass received an update as well, going to version 0.11.1. Some things have changed in this new version which might force you to go back and rewrite some things if you update, but I’ll let you know about that when I upgrade this week. I read the change log and a couple of things stand out. First, is that the linear and radial gradient mixins have been deprecated. We’ll use the background-image mixin instead, and pass it a gradient function. Here is an example of the old way (from my site):

#myDiv {
@include linear-gradient(color-stops($orange, darken($orange, 25%)), left); 

And what it will look like now:

#myDiv {
@include background-image(linear-gradient(left, $orange, darken($orange, 25%))); }

The second is that Lemonade has been merged into compass. If you’ve been using Lemonade, you need to upgrade your sprites to use the new Compass Sprites. Read Compass’ changelog to get more details on everything that has been added/removed.

Are web development helpers making us stupid?

I don’t literally mean dumb or stupid like your IQ is dropping, but more in the sense that, are we using certain tools to make our job easier but let us skip the learning process. Take CSS3 gradients for example. How many of you can actually write out a gradient style that has several color stops? Even webkit’s? The radial gradient as well? Both versions of webkit’s syntax (Safari 4 and 5+)? I could figure out the linear, but it would take me about 5 minutes to get everything correct. The radial though? Not so much. Mostly because I don’t use it that much. Even with linear gradients though, I use things like ColorZilla’s Ultimate CSS Gradient Generator, or the site CSS3 Please!.

All you hard-core zealots might laugh, but it is faster for me to put in two colors, copy the CSS, and paste it into my stylesheet. Of course on my freelance projects I’m using compass which uses really easy mixins (like I show above), but my point is that I save time by doing so. It would take a while to write out all the rules myself. I save a lot of time by using tools like that. In using these types of tools though, are we actually learning the new properties themselves?

Say you had to take a written test, and you had to write out all of the CSS3 properties you know. Then let’s say you get -1 for each you leave blank, but -2 for each you get wrong. How many new properties could you write down on a piece of paper and know you were right? I could get a few, off the top of my head: text-shadow, box-shadow, border-radius, a two color linear gradient. That is about it, and now that I know that, I’m going to correct this issue. Is this really a problem though?

Does it matter?

That is another question. I feel like we should be able to write out these properties off the top of my head. I also think we should use these tools if they save time. For me, any new rules I use I’ll be learning to write by hand first, and THEN use any tool I need to get it done faster. In the overall scheme of things though, how much does knowing how to write it out really matter? You could say “Maybe you don’t have access to those tools, then what? You are screwed! That’s what.” Really though, think of the last time you didn’t have the internet available to you when developing. I can’t think of many, and it didn’t end up mattering.

You could look at any abstract language like this as well. Is Compass and Sass dumbing my knowledge down if there is an easy mixin to use so I don’t have to write out the whole CSS? What about jQuery? CoffeeScript? Do you see my point now? We use a lot of things to speed our process up without knowing the whole picture ourselves. It reminds me of high school math where you would take a test and you had to show HOW you got the answer, not just get the correct answer. Think of jQuery as the calculator, where Javascript would be the written out method to get the same answer. Is knowing that make you more of a developer? Does just knowing how to make things work fine, or knowing HOW it works better? Hopefully you get what I’m saying there.

What do you think?

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