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Mike Riley

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JavaScript Fundamentals I and II LiveLessons Bundle Review

August 24, 2009

My previous LiveLessons reviews focused exclusively on the stand-alone DVD product.  Prentice Hall has expanded their JavaScript Fundamentals LiveLessons DVD's with a 400+ page book included in the bundle.  Is this hybrid collaboration worth the nearly $100 US retail price?  Read on to find out.

The LiveLessons video series represents an ongoing investment by publishing imprint Prentice Hall that a fair-sized segment of the computing technology learning population learns more effectively by seeing the technology in action rather than just reading about it.  With each successive release, the quality and focus of the LiveLessons series has improved both from the technical presentation aspects of A/V quality as well as the presenter's clarity and active engagement with the material being discussed.  JavaScript Fundamentals I and II LiveLessons Bundle embodies a continuing evolution of this improving trend.  By combining more than 14 hours of video instruction along with a 400+ page book designed to both prepare and reinforce the video material, the staying power of the information being taught is far more effective than either product on their own.

First, a few comments about the book.  On its own, the book retails for $39.99 and provides a thorough introduction to JavaScript.  The book's contents follow the same progression as the video instruction (see below), heavily enhanced with screenshots, plenty of highlighted code, call out programming tips, best practices and error avoidance warnings.  Nearly all the code listings are self-contained, allowing readers to interpret the particular programming topic within the context of a working demonstration.  This complete web page approach works especially well for understanding how JavaScript interacts with the DOM.  However, some of these code reprints are rather long (an AJAX example in the last chapter spans 5 pages), but their verbosity is a welcome teaching consideration.  The book is also the optimal platform for lengthy tabular data, busy diagrams, keyword emphasis and reference lookup.  It also contains three appendixes covering XHTML special characters, colors and JavaScript operator precedents.  I would have also preferred appendixes covering a list of prominent DOM objects and JavaScript keywords, especially since the book has thirteen blank pages in the back that could have been filled with such helpful reference materials.

Regarding the video, author/instructor Paul Deitel has become much more polished and comfortable with his on-camera introductions and continues to deliver excellent, engaging instruction during the screencast portions.  His previous video work, including the C# 2008 and Java Fundamentals LiveLessons video training products, were also very well done sans Paul's wandering eye while trying to read his notes and simultaneously look at the camera.  As anyone who has done video work knows, this is nearly impossible to do well without a teleprompter, and even with one, inexperienced users are all too obvious reading off a display.  The screencasts are presented in high resolution 1024x768 viewing, delivered in a FLV-compressed format that leaves almost no artifacts on screen.  And thankfully, the LiveLessons folks have addressed one of my biggest pet peeves with the product line by finally removing the lengthy advertisement at the end of each video segment (thank you!!!).  I am also thankful that the LiveLessons series continues to release their video in a DRM-free format allowing rightful owners to transcode the video to different target playback devices or unsupported operating systems.  Since Linux is my main OS of choice these days, I initially began to transcode the screencasts to a format compatible for Totem and VLC playback.  However, after an enlightening conversation with LiveLesson's Eric Strom, I learned that the playback problems in those programs are due to a buggy implementation of the codec and not LiveLesson's video production configuration.  Indeed, when I played back the screencasts in Mplayer and Flash Player 10, they rendered as expected.  Eric mentioned they are continuing to investigate ways to resolve this out of scope support issue in the future, but for now, Linux users looking to play back the screencasts without resorting to transcoding should use Mplayer or SMplayer for now.

The videos themselves follow the book's progression from generic introductions to XHTML, CSS, control statements, functions and arrays in Part I, to objects, the DOM, Events, XML/RSS and culminating with relatively simple AJAX examples.  Since JavaScript's most prevalent use these days is predominantly AJAX-related, I would have preferred a little more time and book space devoted to the subject, but it's understandable why constraints were made to limit AJAX techniques to the essentials.  Besides, LiveLessons offers a Enterprise AJAX video instruction DVD, so the decision to limit AJAX content in this bundle is justified.

Overall, this new LiveLessons DVD and book hybrid approach provides an excellent combination of online and offline knowledge transfer.  The book provides a primer and reinforcement of the video material, and the video shows the printed material in action.  Ideally, this is how many beginner tutorial tech titles should be packaged in the future for those who prefer a much richer, long term memory educational experience.

Title: JavaScript Fundamentals I and II LiveLessons Bundle
Author: Pauel Deitel
Publisher: Prentice Hall
ISBN: 978-0137018253
Pages: 408
Price: $99.99 US

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