Author Archives: Paul Silver

Weeknotes 29: 22 July – 28 July 2019

Client work

Not a lot to report, I was doing a lot of updates and bug fixes while catching up from the time lost last week due to a migraine.

For one client I had a Google Ads account review with their new “Account Strategist.” This is basically going through your account with someone at Google who is very good at Google Ads (Adwords) and them showing you things that need to be fixed or can be optimised more. It was a semi-useful experience this time as a few things I’d missed were brought up, and I have been neglecting the account we were looking at while working more on the client’s SEO recently and having limited time to do both.

Unfortunately, the new Account Strategist is one of the rather pushy ones, and here we hit a problem with the way Google runs their publicly facing staff at Google Ads. Bluntly, money talks when it comes to Google Ads. Spending a lot in their system? Get senior staff who are very meticulous. Pay less? Get a more junior, often pushy person who’s more interested in you turning on a feature that helps Google more than it helps you. Spend little? Basically get a full on pushy salesman who will try to make you turn on YouTube ads all the time, or at worst someone you can barely understand who appears to have never seen their interface before.

I was feeling rough on the day of the review and when I pushed back on doing things like writing a new advert and putting it live in the middle of the phone call (which he was late for, as is often the case for the lower down staff) he acted incredulous, and the same for me not wanting to immediately trigger changes which I know will cost the client more money for little return, as we’ve tried the same feature in the past.

I’ve been handing Google Ads for clients for a lot of years now and I’ve learnt putting things live during a call generally does not work out well for me – they are changes I haven’t properly thought through as I’m in the call rather than considering all the implications of my actions. It is always worth pushing back in these circumstances.

The attitude of their contact people reminds me a lot of the recruiters I’ve worked with – the better ones tend to listen and understand when you don’t want to be rushed and they tend to end up running high value accounts, the ones who top out in the middle of the ranks are always pushy. Fortunately Google tends to rotate all their contact staff every 6-12 months, so you don’t have to put up with the ones you don’t like for long. They rarely seem to make notes though, so you always have the same initial conversations whenever you change Strategist. I’d have thought Google would have a cracking CRM tool for the part of the business driving most of their billions in revenue, but apparently not.

My Projects

Very little on my projects as I was catching up with work that did not get done last week, and trying to not fill every minute of the day as I didn’t want to trigger another migraine.

Productivity/Health

Two things hit my productivity a lot – heat and politics. The heat I partly managed to solve by working a few days at The Skiff, where the air conditioning is brilliant and meant I could work properly. Boris Johnson becoming the new Prime Minister in waiting was a big distraction, and I’ve become so fed up with everything he says being leapt on by people on Twitter that I’m trying muting several phrases for a week. Twitter will not show any tweets containing the words you have muted, and lets you mute them for a week or more – very handy for trying things out.

I have muted “no deal”, “johnson”, “boris” and “brexit” for a week to see how it goes. So far, my timeline is a lot shorter, but also less stressful. I’m not ignoring the news, I listen to a couple of political podcasts and check news sites, but I’m doing it more when I want rather than it dominating social media when I’m interested in what my friends have been doing. I muted “farage” and “trump” a long time ago and feel I’m much better off for it.

Learning

Again, no progress on 30×500 apart from a little work on content for the Farm site.

New meet up

I went to the inaugrual Brighton Indie Hackers Coffee Meet, run by Rosie Sherry. I both like Rosie a lot and have a hell of a lot of respect for her too. She’s built her success through an enormous amount of effort, building a community where testers can get the respect they deserve.

The best bit of the meet was hearing what she’s been doing recently, which sadly has been burning out on her own project and taking a step back. I hope she can get over that quickly and find something new that she’s as happy with as she has been with MoT. One of the things she’s doing now is be community manager for Indie Hackers and they couldn’t have made a better choice for that.

The meet up has got me to try out the Indie Hackers podcast and check the site out. I hadn’t realised how big Indie Hackers had got, I was only aware of it as a site which seemed to be content marketing aimed at the Hacker News crowd, and I kind of forgot about it when my interest in HN petered out a couple of years ago. So, Rosie’s community management is going well on a very local level!

The Farm

Once again held at the Caxton Arms. Only 12 people along but summer can be very up and down as people do things with their families. My notes were…

  • Live mobile app work
  • Airflow – Apache’s batch system
  • Trying to get people on big teams to understand the consequences of actions on other projects
  • Building a local setup to match a client’s weird setup
  • Dealing with the heat
  • Creating Downs-land in town
  • Wildflowers
  • Boris Johnson
  • Affluent reactionaries
  • Moasic demographic: low horizons
  • Will there be a general election soon?
  • SD card aging
  • Long lost relatives
  • Photography with film vs digital
  • Star Trek: Picard
  • DNA testing
  • Ancestry.com and the Church of the Latter Day Saints
  • Sockmaggedon

Family

During the weekend I took Tom out to Worthing, where he enjoyed a playground and playing some Pokemon Go, and I enjoyed an American car show – lots of massive old cars I usually only see on Roadkill episodes.

Tom and old Chevy pickups

Reading: Continued Titan by John Varley. Also started Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models by Gabriel Weinberg and Lauren McCann. I’m reading Super Thinking on the train to and from The Skiff and so far I’m only a little way in and it’s… a bit disappointing. A lot of stuff I already know and a lot of repeating that the book is going to change the way I think. I’d be much happier if it got on with that changing rather than telling me it was going to do it, but I guess that is a business book kind of thing.

Writing with: a Uniball Eye Needle Fine, a good rollerball I’ve been using for my Farm notes as it’s good for using in a small notebook. Good for a big notebook too!

Writing in: a Beechmore Books A5 dotted notebook. I got this at a good price from Amazon, it has nice paper, smooth paper which is coated so fountain pen ink works well on it, although it takes a while to dry. Part of the notebook has a slight binding problem so the paper isn’t completely flat, I’ll have to wait and see if that’s a problem or whether using the earlier part will flatten it out. For £4-5 cheaper than a Leuchtturm1917 notebook, it is a very good choice.

Weeknotes 28: 15th July – 21st July 2019

Client work

A bunch of spec writing and minor updates. Only things to talk about are…

Discovering the CSV output a client does from a download from another piece of software has started adding an Unicode code point U+FEFF BYTE order mark, more commonly referred to as a BOM character. I had to find some code to strip this off of each line so PHPs fgetcsv could parse the lines correctly.

And for the same client, something odd was coming in with the postcodes for some of the data they are using, which meant the database wanted a different collation for the table we’re looking up postcode data from. That was using latin1, it needed to match UTF8mb4.

This MySQL query will show what collation each table is using:

SELECT TABLE_CATALOG, TABLE_SCHEMA, TABLE_NAME, COLUMN_NAME, COLLATION_NAME
FROM INFORMATION_SCHEMA.COLUMNS

Then I used this, with the right table name instead of database_table_name to update the one that was on latin1:

ALTER TABLE database_table_name CONVERT TO CHARACTER SET utf8mb4 COLLATE utf8mb4_unicode_ci;

My Projects

I managed to write and publish an article for the Farm: Downloadable Freelancers Invoice Tracking Spreadsheet and edit another one on contracting which I’m not happy with the ending of yet.

On the downside, I discovered the new account emails sent by the Farm site are often being marked as spam. In investigating, I found I’d made a minor mistake in the SPF record for the domain, so I’m hoping fixing that will solve the problem. If not, I’m going to re-write the standard email WordPress sends in the hope it will then not be seen as spam as it will be unique.

Productivity/Health

The week started OK, then went strongly downhill on Wednesday. After spending a chunk of the morning at my son’s sports day, then part of lunchtime getting hot walking to the shops and back, I got a migraine. I took my medication for them very early, then when the symptoms had gone off tried to do a bit more work as I was at The Skiff and hoping to stay on for The Farm later. This was a mistake. I started to feel worse again, got very little done, and had to go home to sleep off the rest of the effects. Result – no Farm for me, little done, and a bad migraine hangover the next day. On Friday I was still feeling washed out, so the second half of the week was poor all round.

I’m still trying to work out whether the trigger for this migraine was the heat, or a different sort of yogurt I’d had on Tuesday night. It was a brand I’ve had before, but a new sort of packaging and yogurt so I have a suspicion it was that as yogurts have been a trigger in the past. Annoying that a brand I can normally eat might have changed a supplier or recipe so I can’t be sure about them.

Learning

No progress on 30×500 apart from getting content done for the Farm site.

The Farm

No notes from me as I missed it. Haze tells me there were 22 people there before he left half way through, including several new people. Hopefully they’ll be back soon.

Family

During the week we had Tom’s sports day one day, then a get-briefed-about-year-five talk the next. I don’t think we have anything to worry about for his next year at school, although it’s easy to be smug when your child is doing well in school.

The weekend involved cutting down a bunch of branches from our neighbours tree as it’s overlapping in to our garden too much – blocking the sunlight hitting our washing line and dropping a lot on our trampoline. I haven’t cleared quite all of the branches from this yet, having filled two of the council-collection sized bags with just over half the clippings. I also checked the gutters after a rain storm showed the back ones are falling apart and leaking everywhere.

There was also two playground trips, and visiting the beaches of both Lancing and Worthing.

Reading: Continued Titan by John Varley. I feel a bit more could be happening but actually, quite a lot is it’s just not as overly dramatic as some more recently written fiction.

Writing with: back to the OHTO Capsule Multipen I was using at the start of the year. Really good in the not-great paper of the Notables notebook I’m just about to finish.

Weeknotes 27: 8th July – 14th July 2019

Client work

There were some bread and butter bug fixes and changes to parts of some client sites, but the week was dominated by domain transfers.

For one of my long term clients I’d ended up with a dozen of their domains in my domain registrar account, mainly .co domains as their registrar did not support them when they first came out. These are expensive domains to rent and I’d complained about having to renew them each year then have to wait to be paid back. Another freelancer involved with the company also had some domains in his registrar too. So, I was asked to transfer all of them over to the now updated client’s Ionos (previously 1&1) account.

This was relatively straightforward, being mainly clicking around various bits of multiple web based control panels. But it took a while as there were 30 or so domains to move, and the process is slightly different for .uk domains compared to everything else.

It took a few days for the .co domains to move, and when domains move their DNS disappears so I had to re-set up each domain to point to the client’s server. Again, not tricky once you know how, just a lot of clicking and keeping track of what’s transferred and set up and what hasn’t.

I don’t transfer domains very often and the process seemed easier than when I’ve done it in the past – you need various codes and things, but both registrars had simple procedures for them and weren’t trying to hide anything.

My Projects

I managed quite a lot of writing for the Farm site, with one article going live on How to make a freelancers invoice and chunks of several others written or in notes form.

Also on the cards was an upgrade to the WordPress install that the Farm site runs on. Haze, who built this version of the site, offered to be around when I did the upgrade just in case anything went wrong, but I did it without him and nothing did. We had a little stutter on some pages as I hadn’t realised the Advanced Content Fields plugin needed a button pressed to update the database, but that was it. All very smooth and a testiment to Haze’s site building skills.

Productivity

Pretty good to start the week, then got lower near the end after a bad night and low motivation due to having to chase money, again, from one of my clients.

Being cheesed off by the money chasing provided some useful motivation for getting on with the content for the Farm site, and pushing towards finding something to earn income outside of client consultancy work.

Learning

Some progress on 30×500, continuing to learn about the slightly more advanced parts of the content marketing they suggest.

The Farm

Attendance down at 14, but the chat was very good. As usual it was at the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Tomato plant horticulture
  • Finding out if your potential app has a market
  • Problems buying/selling houses
  • Vue.js
  • Lobsters regrow their claws
  • Domain moving
  • Greenfield projects let you use new tech easily
  • Learning a new tech properly by doing a project with it
  • Carsitting
  • Getting plumbing fixed
  • The Skiff coworking space
  • New to freelancing
  • Revolt Bitcoin wallet
  • To do app for chidlren’s chores
  • Refactoring and fixing a large Backbone project
  • The Farm acting as an old boys network
  • Diving
  • GraphQL / Grapher
  • Scala and Slick functional relationship mapper
  • Worthing Wheel
  • Kevin’s found skull fragment resolved
  • Strange finds (including exuviae)
  • Finding time for your own projects

Family

Nothing unusual, just the standard playground and family visits.

Reading: Started Titan by John Varley, which I hadn’t taken in was part of a series. Started well, not a lot to report as I’m not making great progress as I’m falling asleep so fast at the moment.

Writing with: a Zebra Z-mulsion pen, nice and smooth but a little smeary if you’re not careful with it.

Weeknotes 26: 1st July – 7th July 2019

A productive but dull week spiced up by a visiting baby seagull

Client work

A productive week but nothing much to talk about – building and sending a newsletter for one client, making site changes for another, and having some back and forth with Laura about the new site for a third client.

My Projects

I managed several hours on my Twitter thanks app and got it a proper domain – Thanks for Sharing, applied for, put in and tested new API keys from its proper Twitter account. It works if you want to try it, but there are no instructions in the app at the moment. If you have retweeted Tweets, it will let you write a message and select people who have retweeted you so you can easily send a message to all of them. I use it to thank people for sharing on the Farm’s meetings and articles.

Productivity

Pretty good, I managed time on client work, my own projects, and some family running around time. It was greatly helped by Katie’s shifts meaning she did the brunt of the family side of things.

Things were knocked a little by time spent on a baby seagull, more about that below.

Learning

No progress on 30×500 as I didn’t sit down and write for the Farm site, was working on the app instead.

The Farm

Attendance back up 23, and once again at the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Getting fed up with your side project
  • Software defined wide area networks
  • Worthing tech scene
  • Seagull stories
  • Columbo and technology
  • Cryptocurrency
  • Soy sauce in porridge
  • Moving out of Brighton for cost reasons
  • Beta testing new apps
  • Working with machine learning
  • Misadventures in Dieppe
  • Newly freelance
  • Startup deaththrows
  • Mutual project catch up

Notes are slightly shorter than usual as I talked to a couple of people about things that shouldn’t go public from me, one was good – an app that isn’t ready to go live yet, the other more personal things.

Family

Baby seagull on roofThe early part of the week was complicated by the baby seagull that was struggling on our roof on Sunday appearing on our conservatory roof on Monday morning, healthy but not able to return to the roof as it’s wings are no where near developed enough. After disappearing for a while and reappearing, I talked to Waders, our local animal rescue charity. They sent out a person to check the bird and she decided it was best off where it was as it’s mother would drop food down to it.

OBaby seagull in cat carriern Tuesday Katie discovered the baby seagull running around the road in front of our house, having found the gap in the terrace a few doors down. We managed to catch it in to one of our cat carriers and put it back on our back roof. Then I had to do the same with our neighbour after it got stuck in his garden, and then again the same evening when it got caught between our extension and said neighbour’s one and one of our cats took a great interest in how the seagull was doing.

On Wednesday the baby seagull disappeared. I’m not sure if something has made off with it, or someone down the road took it to the vets for rescue. It’s a shame as it was very cute, but a relief not to be trying to look after it!

On Sunday after some emergency trainers buying for my son, whose feet are finally starting to catch up to his height, I got to meet Alex and family in Brighton. We were supposed to go to the kite festival but changed plans due to a morning of rain. Fortunately the weather cleared up enough that our children could have fun in a playground while we caught up. We’re having the standard problem of busy lives and families – not keeping up enough. It was great to see them.

Reading: Finished Forever and a Day, a fine James Bond novel and it built up nicely to the end, but didn’t really do a great deal for me overall.

Writing with: quite a lot with a Pilot Hi-Tecpoint v5, a refillable ballpoint I’d heard was good. This is a cartridge based version of a pen I used a lot at university and it’s good and not scratchy like my J Herbin ballpoint, but I wish they’d put a metal clip on the cap like they have for the disposable versions of the pen. Having a pen you’re going to refill and generally keep for a long time means having a plastic clip is a pain as I’m much more likely to break it.

Weeknotes 25: 24th June – 30th June 2019

One project live, feeling rough, oppressive heat, some client work done.

Client work

Nothing amazing to report on the client work front, all just bread-and-butter changes, planning and Google Ads work.

I put live the project for teaching safety through explaining the poor practises going on in ‘amusing’ pictures sent around groups and forums for HSE/OSHA/safety/working at height – Industrial Idiots. It’s still very rough around the edges, being a standard WordPress theme with some content in it. I’ve got an idea for a logo, but haven’t had time to put it together yet. Still, it’s up and I managed to get two posts in to it and sort out a Twitter account as well as the hosting, so that’s a good start.

I also discovered a sort-of ex-client, Ascendant Access, has gone under again, although may survive on making parts for the cherry pickers they used to manufacture. They were owned by my client Facelift for a while so I looked after their basic website and worked on an alternative which never quite made it live. It’s a shame to see a British manufacturer not be able to produce machines that are useful and used by a lot of councils and businesses around the country profitably enough to keep going.

My Projects

I managed a little work on my own projects, so some progress but a little halting.

Productivity

I have been trying to be sensible about the amount I’m trying to get done to make sure I’m fully recovered from the two migraines I had last week – they’re often a sign I’m overdoing it. Work wasn’t helped by it being very hot, and I really appreciated the air conditioning at The Skiff when I worked from there.

I felt rough a chunk of the week and I’m not sure if this was a general, low level cold, the heat, or hay fever.

Learning

Nothing on 30×500 apart from some notes on what I need to write to get to the next stage.

The Farm

Attendance was only 16, with a few regulars away. Held at the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Single Page Apps in Vue vs React
  • The Eden Project lizards
  • How much biodiversity do you need for a species to keep going?
  • Successful subcontracting is hard (and requires QA)
  • Indenting styles
  • How hot are the Caxton’s hottest hot wings?
  • Working on other people’s code – only for time & materials not fixed price
  • How do you get greenfield projects?
  • Mutual app project
  • How to tell a client the ‘small’ thing they’ve asked for is chargeable
  • Rounding on a threshold of activity (e.g. when to re-render if a slider is being used)
  • Coding in Metal/GPU coding in iOS
  • Factoring
  • How do you structure your work with a client – contracts etc
  • IR35 changes
  • Parenthood

Family

A lot of Saturday was lost to running around because the food we’d bought had gone off in the heat. Sunday started badly with the work on an inconsiderate neighbour’s garage starting early and waking me up, but got better with Katie taking Tom to the cinema to give me a break, and having a barbeque in the evening. One of the baby seagulls nesting on our roof was having trouble scaling our roof having slid down from their nesting spot, which wasn’t the best accompaniment to the food.

One thing I’ve realised is Katie having to work at least one and sometimes both days at the weekend means I’m not getting enough down time as having our son on my own means he will basically nag me about stuff a lot of the day when he’s not occupied on something else. I’m resisting the urge to let him use games/screen time more than he is as we’re generally happy with his limits, but need to find a way to get him to be a little more independent in his play when he’s not gaming.

Reading: Still reading the James Bond novel Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz. Still going along fine, not remarkable but getting more gripping as it’s going along.

Writing with: a Zebra ZmulsionEX, nice smooth writer but can take a while to dry depending on the paper.

Listening to: Startups for the Rest of Us episode 448 “Let’s Talk About Bluetick” where they talked through some of the problems Mike Taber, one of the hosts of the podcast, is having growing his software as a service business Bluetick. This was pretty brutal in parts as you could tell Mike was struggling to talk about how much his motivation has been hit and what problems he’s having pushing forwards as the business has plateaued. It gave me a lot to think about as I can recognise some of the same behaviours in myself, and I’m now where near as successful as he’s got in the SaaS space – not only does he have a running SaaS, he’s written a book about them, and co-runs a very successful conference about them. One to listen to again soon. I hope Mike finds a way out of his situation, even if it’s to change in a way he’s not sure about.