codePen, notepad, and vim — oh, my!

CodePen is pretty amazing if you understand how to use it.  Most campers don’t.  This may be in part because FreeCodeCamp doesn’t require anyone to watch a video on how to set up CodePen and some people won’t do stuff unless you make them.

When creating a pen, there are options.  The best option is to create from a template but to do that, you need a template first.  This is one of those techniques that is helpful for people who will use CodePen more than once. That should be you.  So, without further ado, let’s build a simple FreeCodeCamp template.

Create a new pen.  It will come up blank, with three editing panels and a white area. If you don’t like where the editing panels are, you can click on the [Change View] button at the top and choose from left-side, top, or right-side display.  If you don’t like the colors, you can change that, too, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

Click the [Settings] button.  This will pop up an screen with settings for this particular pen.  It will look like thisNotice on the left it has Pen Settings and some tabs.  We’ll go through them one by one.

The first one is HTML. This is where you put your stuff for your <head> element.  Things like Google fonts go here.  Also if you’re suing Pug or another preprocessor or if you link to other resources. Do not link CSS or JavaScript resources here. These each have their own tab. If you don’t know what any  of what I wrote means, leave these fields blank because that means it doesn’t apply to you. However, since we’re building a template, I’m going to tell you to take something on faith. Click the black button at the bottom of that side. This will aid in making any of your sites responsive. It says [↑ Insert the most common viewport meta tag].

Next comes the CSS tab. This screen allows you use LESS or Sass or other CSS preprocessors or link to external CSS files.  You can load Bootstrap here using the button at the bottom that says [Quick-add].  If you want to use the version of Bootstrap that has been covered in FCC lessons, use Version 3.  Do that now, actually, as that’s something useful for the template.

The next tab is JavaScript.This is similar to the CSS tab in that you have a list of preprocessors you can choose as well as places to add external JavaScript resources.  Click the [Quick-add] button and add Bootstrap.

The next tab is about CodePen itself, not about your project code.You can choose the way your code displays.  I use spaces, set to two.  Uncheck Save automatically.  Since you’re doing this over the internet, it’s a bandwidth hog to save after every keystroke or few.  AutoUpdate is also a bad idea. Make sure neither is checked.

Now let’s turn our attention to the part on the right. Give the pen a good title Template or myTemplate or something similar. Describe it in the box for that.  And, most importantly, toggle ti to Template status.   Now click the green [Save & Close] button and voila! you have a template.

I promised we’d get back to changing the color of our editor. Now is the time. Click on your avatar picture on the top right corner and choose Settings from the drop-down menu.  You’ll get a screen similar to this one.Colors are on the top left, either individual settings or themes.  There are other settings too.  Once you have it how you like it, the save button is on the top right.

This is my current setup. You will notice the vim key bindings. Since I tend to run Linux Mint (that’s all my laptop has at the moment and my desktop dual-boots to Win10), I tend to use vim quite often to edit files. When I develop anything locally, it tends to be in vim (unless it’s Python, in which case I use idle).

This is not a public-service announcement for vim.  I’m not recruiting anyone. Use what works for you, but here’s why I use vim.

  • Most Linux or unix-flavored boxes have it.  I can also get it for Windows.
  • It works when I install it, without a lengthy setup procedure.
  • I can add features as I need them, optionally saving to a local config file.
  • I’m accustomed to it.  My fingers remember how to do common tasks.

If I’m on an unfamiliar Windows machine, I’ll use NotePad. Because I know how. Same with TextEdit on a Mac. It’s not that I’m averse to other editors.  People joke about not knowing how to exit vim, but honestly, any program without a menu has that issue.  It’s not a vim issue, per se.

It’s all about the learning curve.  CodePen has one and so does vim.  CodePen has a shallower one.  By all means, learn it.  It makes it much easier to share your code.  If you are going to do serious work in Linux, you should probably learn enough vim to edit basic files.  But don’t use it for your everyday editor unless or until it becomes familiar enough that you catch yourself using vim commands in non-vim spaces.


(just kidding)

pomodoro: the clock stops here

Preparing to turn in my calculator means I can turn my attention to the next project.  Build a Pomodoro Clock. This will require me to learn new things, like time-based anything and how to cause my HTML to emit sound.

But like any other HTML/web project, the first part is figuring out what it will look like. Here is a screenshot of my Pomodoro Clock.Incurably retro.  I got the idea from someone who mentioned they had a seven-segment font they were using for the calculator project and I thought how totally awesome that was for a clock.  Now this font, being truly seven segments has no plus sign or colon.  So the buttons (and the text) are in the Roboto font. which is how the real world deals with seven-segment stuff. Which is to say, they don’t use it except for the actual digital display.  What you can’t notice from the screenshot is everything is in rem not px.  This meant I had some artifacts and issues trying to make the actual clock part of the display work.  I resolved them with Flexbox. You’ll find out more Thursday.

The person who helped me with the flexbox also gave me a link to a stackoverflow discussion about javascript timers.  It’s interesting and relates well to stuff I saw on CSS Tricks.  The key to using anyone else’s code is that you have to understand it and not only how it works but why it works.  If I can’t, I’ll look other places.  The synthesis of the two sites is working for me in understanding that a function that counts time based on milliseconds will drift from the actual time and that you may want to adjust for it by checking against the real time now and then. The main issue seems to be how often do you need to do this to stay on target vs having extra overhead.  I’ll know more Thursday when we meet again.

calculator: the chain gang

Let me be blunt.  The calculator is not a difficult project once you’re aware of the eval() function that takes a string and treats it as an arithmetic expression and evaluates it. If I knew the name of the person who mentioned it, I’d share.  The trouble is, it was a toss-off comment in a reply to someone else and I happened to be paying attention.  For the record, attention is good.

I hang out in the gitter FreeCodeCamp room quite often and this sort of thing is there, going on all the time.  Someone posts a problem, whether it’s with a challenge (“how do I nest my image element in an anchor tag?”), an algorithm (“can someone check my Roman number code?”) or a project (“my Twitch viewer shows the same channel eight times instead of showing the eight channels from my array”) and others offer help. Usually, the problem is spotted and resolved (often the person posting sees the issue as soon as they shared it). Someone else’s calculator issue was solved by eval() and I was watching.  This was back when I was doing random quotes or something.

The difficult part of the calculator for me was how do I make something that looks like a calculator in HTML and CSS. The answer is by looking at someone else’s calculator.  Google Images to the rescue.  I found the OSX calculator icon. It has buttons on it for Clear and ± and memory management stuff in the top row that I don’t need. So if I delete the top row, I have a basic idea of what a calculator should have. If you look at it side-by-side with my calculator, you can see how it was inspired by this one. My phone calculator looks like someone was too lazy to bother making it look like it wasn’t an app on a phone. So using that as a guide would have given me something really ugly and not like the project was looking for.
OSX calculator icon phone calcmy calc

The colors for my calculator are courtesy of Computer Hopes HTML Color Codes & Names page.  I found the red for that button as a trinary color for the blue of the other buttons. You can find trinary colors by typing or pasting the hex code for a color in the box at the top. I got the display box color by sampling the color from the OSX calculator and averaging it. It took a bit of trial-and-error to get good button colors with my faceplate color.

But that’s only part of it, there are also fonts. For the display, I wanted a font with something in the zero.  A slash or dot or something. But not for the buttons. Zero on a button should look empty and the C should look reasonable.  So I hit up Google Fonts.  I specifically typed in the digits and the key signs (so I could see what the keys would look like) and told it to make that be the sample for all of the fonts.  Then I said I only wanted monospace fonts. And alphabetical because I was looking for specific things, not popularity. The fonts I chose were Abel for the the keys and Allerta for the display. I liked the look of the C in Abel and the fact the 4 was closed.

So, on to making it function.  I’m sure there’s a better way—there always is—but what I did was made a click event for each button and then handled it. For the digits, it was easy—check if the the entry was zero—if it was, replace it with the number, otherwise, add the digit to the string for the current number.  Decimal point was tough—you can only have one per number.  And signs meant I had to peel off the current number and make a new one.  And then the equals meant, run eval().  Okay, that all worked so I took it to gitter.

And someone said it didn’t “chain”.  Now, I could type 2+5*4  and press the equal sign and get 22 so I knew it worked.  But that wasn’t what they meant.  They meant, if I pressed equals again, it should repeat the last operation so I should get 88 (22 * 4) the next time, and so on.  While I was fixing it, we got into a side conversation about how I don’t generally use a calculator so I was unaware of that expected behavior.  Then, right when I had typed “try it now” they typed, “don’t worry about it, mine doesn’t do that, either,” and I had to laugh because, well, mine does it.

Here’s how.  I’m already keeping the current number separate from the rest of the current expression.  I have to so I can use the ± on it.  So what I need to do is grab the last operator from the string (it will be the last character) and combine them and put that in the chain:

$("#eqButton").on("click", function(){
if(curNum != ""){
// if the expression isn't empty, evaluate it
curResult = eval(curExp + curNum);
if(curResult === 3/0){
curResult = "0&amp;nbsp;Divide&amp;nbsp;Error";
chain = curExp.substr(curExp.length-1) + curNum;
curExp += curNum;
oldExp = curExp;
// they pressed = again
curResult = eval(oldExp += chain);
curNum = "";
curExp = "";

It’s still on CodePen but will be moved to GitHub before I turn it in.  The links on the right will always be current.