Feb 23, 2012

Interactive CoffeeScript Books

If you own an iPad and enjoy the format of the interactive HTML book Smooth CoffeeScript, you might take a look at CoffeeScript: An Interactive Reference by Trevor Burnham. At just 15 pages, it is priced at $4.99. The thing that excites me is that it encourages you to code while you read.

In my mind, there is no good reason why every digital book on JavaScript programming should not be interactive. Typically, programming books make their example source code available for download, or somewhat better, cloning from GitHub. I usually do this and keep the code open in an editing environment while reading. When the code fragment I am studying is not too difficult to locate (mostly the case), as well as not too difficult to execute (sadly, not often the case), I love to do so, at a minimum just to see that it actually works. Often I go beyond just running the example and get into some experimentation, leading to much deeper learning. I do all of my technical reading on an 11" MacBook Air in order to lower the barrier to "coding along with the text" as much as possible.

For my upcoming book on Backbone.js and CoffeeScript, I am working on a subtle approach to interactivity that does not disrupt the flow of normal reading. Most readers say that they do not even notice at first that the code listings are embedded CoffeeScript editors. You can experience a prototype in this tutorial on helper functions with Eco (Embedded CoffeeScript templates). The current version of the format now uses wonderfully readable assertions from chai.js instead of browser alerts.

Please let me know what you think. Does interactivity in HTML books outweigh the disadvantages of reading in a browser? What do you think of iBooks? Any thoughts about executable JavaScript in PDF or other digital formats?

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