Category Archives: Weeknotes

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.

Weeknotes 24: 17th June – 23rd June 2019

Tiredness, double migraine and answering questions on freelancing at TalentFest 2019.

Client work

To get the new website I’m working on for my recruitment client working, I needed to make it easier for them to import data from their CRM to the website. That was a process that was taking several minutes and looked like it crashed part way through, and more recently was breaking on some records. To fix it I took several steps:

  • Increased the limit on how much data would be accepted in any one row of the CSV
  • Added an index to a table we are doing a lookup on for each row we’re processing from the CSV
  • Instead of taking one row from the CSV and doing a database query for some extra data, then doing an insert, then going on to the next row I compiled up both the lookups and inserts in to bulk SQL queries of 500-1000 rows at a time. This meant instead of doing several thousand database interactions, it went down to 20-25

The upshot of the optimisation was the import of an 8,000 row CSV now takes less than ten seconds rather than a few minutes. Much more useful.

The same client wanted some work done so they can send text messages to candidates and know who they are when they click through to the website, which benefitted from the above work and meant some changes to other parts of their site to work with the system sending the texts.

For my other client with a new site, I paused the Laravel code I’d been working on and installed WordPress, got some plugins in, and have the site half done to the point I can start posting content. I’m going to have to do some investigation to get it to show some content in the way I need (geolocated) but I’m sure I’ll find a way to do that with another plugin.

Work time was short this week due to the TalentFest and migraines.

My Projects

Work on my own apps was put off by needing to work on some stuff for the TalentFest. Wired Sussex helpfully sent me the top frequently asked questions they have received about freelancing at the various breakfast events they’ve run. I sat down and wrote notes on each to get myself in the right frame of mind for answering questions on Tuesday, where I’d agreed to help on a stand about freelancing and be on a panel question and answer session.

All of the notes should end up becoming help posts on the Farm’s website, so it was useful on two fronts.

TalentFest & Freelancing panel

Wired Sussex put on TalentFest 2019, a job fair for the tech sector in Brighton. They invited me to be on a question and answer panel about freelancing, and also asked if I (and other Farm members) could help out on a stall about freelancing at the fair. I was happy to oblige as Wired Sussex are very good about promoting the Farm to their followers, and run a lot of useful events for freelancers and small businesses in Brighton.

I didn’t have to do much on the stall as several people were there to help, including Haze, who did a great job handing out business cards with the Farm’s details on and Skiff leaflets.

The panel went well, I was on it with Phil Jones, head of Wired Sussex, designer Sara Brunettini (whose website seems to be down as I write this so I’m linking to her Farm profile) and Emma Hardwick of Plus Accounting, the company sponsoring the panel.

People seemed satisfied with our answers, Sara did incredibly well considering she’s both newly freelance, new to public speaking, and speaking in her second language. She’s been practising public speaking using the Skiff’s Show & Tell lunches and the practise has really paid off.

At the TalentFest I talked to people from as far away as Bournemouth and South London, which is great for a Brighton event, although it perhaps speaks to how bad the job market is at the moment. I’m convinced we’re in the start of another recession, not that most of the country has really come out of the last one, but that’s for a conversation another time.

Wired Sussex had the panel filmed, so it should come out on their YouTube channel soon.

Productivity

Rather walloped by having two migraines in the same week, and feeling rough in between.

The first migraine was Tuesday evening, coming on as I got to the supermarket on the way home from the Talent Festival. Fortunately Migraleve Duo was enough to stop the main effects, but I lost most of the evening as I had to go to bed as soon as I got home, and dinner was a slice of toast.

The second came on mid-Friday afternoon when I was working at The Skiff. Again some Migraleve tablets stopped the worst effects, but I lost a lot of work time and again, a big chunk of my evening.

The trigger for the first one is a bit of a mystery. I’d eaten at a street food market in the middle of the day, but avoided the things there that I knew would trigger me, and they don’t usually come on quite that fast when the cause is food. I do get them on release of stress, but I really wasn’t that stressed about being on the panel as it’s something I’ve done enough times before to take in my stride.

The second was because I hadn’t properly recovered from the first, having had a very busy Wednesday and been feeling tired and rough the rest of the week. The very humid, oppressive weather might also have been a factor in both of them, but I think the second was mainly just feeling generally ill and not having had a break recently.

Learning

Nothing on 30×500 as I lost so much time to feeling ill.

The Farm

Boosted a bit by people coming from the job fair, attendance was 23, and once again at the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Near misses with dodgy clients
  • Where to look for work
  • Car leasing
  • Time to go for an electric car?
  • Coding a shader in C++ and Metal
  • Heavy React.js talk
  • Skiff open day
  • Adding tests to your code to make you more appealing
  • Wired Sussex TalentFest job fair
  • MongoDB
  • New/old side project
  • Being Debbie Downer
  • Being productive when working at home
  • Why the Pomodoro technique works
  • Project catch up
  • AI / Machine Learning
  • Self driving car tech is amazing
  • Getting the most out of a degree

Family

On Saturday we had a delayed Father’s Day as Katie was working on Father’s Day last week. This meant lunch out and doing nice things as a family, including playing a game on the Wii U together that I now can’t remember the name of. A slow day was very welcome as I had a hangover from the migraine.

Sunday started a bit early as I had to give Katie a lift to work as the buses don’t run early enough for her to get in and open the shop. Then it was some time at a playground on the seafront for Tom, and a bit of time in the afternoon for me to clear a load of the weeds off the patio.

Reading: Still reading the James Bond novel Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz. Jogging along quite nicely, as you’d expect from an prolific author like Horowitz.

Writing with: finished the Papermate Inkjoy Needlepoint. Bouncing around a few others and not settled on anything else yet.

Watching: Deadpool, which was on TV. Rude, crude and very funny, I wish I’d watched it earlier.

Weeknotes 23: 10th June – 16th June 2019

Demoing a project, a resurrected meet up and working on two new client sites.

Client work

My work for clients this week was dominated by planning out and writing the technical specification for a new website for one of my clients, who are branching out in to a slightly different type of recruitment than they ususally handle.

The basics of the site are pretty much a copy of an existing service that my client will put their own spin on. Although that makes the process of planning the site more straightforward as you can see what has been decided by someone else and work out which parts you’ll change and which you’ll disregard, it’s easy to underestimate how much of an application or service you can’t see. Working out the project has taken me longer than expected as I work out all the hidden parts that it will need and how to make them work.

I’m writing a technical spec as it is an excellent way to work out all the interactions the site will need and therefore what we need to store ahead of time rather than starting coding and realising you need to ditch work as you haven’t thought it through properly. Also, this lets me pass a chunk of the work over to Laura to code up. As the spec is growing and growing as I work out all the detail, I sent her some sections to work on while I continue planning and writing. Hopefully I’ve worked out the database side well enough that we won’t have a lot of amends to do when I’ve finished the spec.

I also spent a few hours starting a new site to promote health and safety on work sites within the industry of another client. The site is partly there to improve safety, and partly to promote the client and an offshoot business. Having done some planning for it a while ago, this is the first chance I’ve had to sit down and break out my editor and get started. Having done a few hours I’ve realised building a Laravel site to do it might not be the best idea as I could use WordPress to get most of what I need much more quickly. So I need to decide which way to go with that next week. Hmm, what was that about planning ahead that I was just writing about?

My Projects

On Monday lunchtimes at The Skiff usually has Show & Tell run by Tom Parslow. This is a chance to show off some work you’ve been doing or something you’ve made for a few minutes and take questions from the audience. I showed the latest version of my Twitter thanks app and the improvements I made last week. Feedback was positive and on reviewing some old notes I realised the recent changes I put in were from ideas in feedback from the last time I showed it.

I now want to get it up and running as a public tool. Realising I might get people sending out nasty messages using it, I’ve added some basic logging so I can review what tweets are sent with it and can ban people if they are being nasty using it. I’ve now registered a domain and will spend a few hours next week getting it up and running. It’ll be very rough around the edges, but that is fine for now.

Open Coffee Sussex

Jonathan Markwell has re-started his Open Coffee Sussex meet up, which happens in the morning of the second Thursday of the month in Brighton. Usually I can’t get to Brighton on Thursdays as I do both school runs, but Katie being on a different shift let me head across. It was great to see it re-start, I met some interesting people, and managed to have a bit of a catch up with Jon, who is once again somewhat of a free agent.

If you want to meet people building their own businesses and services in Brighton, this is a great meet up to go to.

Productivity

Not great as Katie is doing a lot of extra work as they’re short staffed at her job, and that means I’m on a lot more school runs, childcare and cooking. It also got a bad hit on Thursday when I had a bad night’s sleep, then a lot of hip pain. Still, mainly sleep was better and that is good.

Learning

Nothing on 30×500 and didn’t get to writing the list-style article I should be working on.

The Farm

Attendance up to 21, and once again at the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Coding for iOS using Metal
  • React.js
  • Wired Sussex Job Fair next week
  • Finding short term tech work
  • The BNM list
  • Looking for visual demo style Javascript work
  • Project catch up
  • Brighton restaurants that can’t seem to serve hot food
  • Burger King and the Impossible Whopper
  • Speccing a project to be a copy of an existing site – you have to imagine the unseeable parts
  • Odd jobs we have done
  • Checking which websites should be blocked? Warn others in the office first!
  • Politics and what might happen with Brexit
  • Working through hay fever
  • Chili plant cultivation
  • Aches and pains – are Farm members getting old?
  • Making a new logo for your business
  • The tough economics of running a cafe

Family

Katie was working all weekend and Tom was knackered after the first week of this half term, so it was relatively quiet with a trip to the library and some playgrounds.

Reading: Started Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz. A James Bond novel, which isn’t normally my thing but I bought it at a discount and it sounds intriguing. It’s set just after World War II, which I didn’t expect from the cover description. It’s going fine, quite short chapers which is good for reading just before bed.

Writing with: a lot with a Papermate Inkjoy Needlepoint I’ve had on the go for a while, almost finished but stores more than it looks. Also with the Platignum Studio when I’ve got paper that can take the fountain pen in.

Weeknotes 22: 3rd June – 9th June 2019

Client work

Another week of changes for existing client sites, and a bit of social media promotion after sending out a newsletter for a client. One thing about the promotion was we have various messages from different departments going out to Twitter. Some of them are amusing and/or scary images of people doing industrial work in a very risky manner, which I bulk load in to their site then have them get released daily on to the site and then shared on Twitter. They’re used partly to amuse their customers who know what they are doing, but also as reminders to watch what you are doing at work to make sure you’re not making the same mistakes.

We do a similar thing for their news – it all gets loaded on to the site by their branding chap, then he and I build an email newsletter from it, then I schedule the stories to be fed out on Twitter daily over the start of the month.

Some of their news stories are about health and safety court cases in the UK, and they are grim reading – the results of cases where someone has been seriously injured or died as their workplace hasn’t been safe enough. While scheduling these in Tweetdeck, I fortunately realised we should not be sending out the amusing warning images to Twitter on the same day, their scheduling is a bit random and it would be very bad form to be reading about someone’s untimely death, shortly followed up with a picture of some grinning idiot doing something stupid on a work site. So, I nipped in to the database and rescheduled the pictures to go on different days to the grim stories.

So what’s the upshot of all this? It’s just a warning that while scheduling things to be released on social media is a great time saver, so great for the client as they save money, you need to think about what is released when. It’s a great way to make a company look bad as you haven’t considered everything that might come out in the same few hours.

Two more things came up to do with social media this week. The first was one of the news stories for this customer was about Brexit and the effect of it in their industry. In the end I did not set that for sharing on Twitter, as I did not want the company to be handling the knee jerk reactions and trolling that anything about Brexit seems to attract. This saddens me, as I’ve enjoyed Twitter for a long time, but for the last few years the community I like there has definitely dropped off and I think dealing with random people (or bots) acting like dicks when you put out a comment for your friends is a big part of the problem. Me not sharing a completely legitimate, non-confrontational story from a client there is all part of the drop off.

And finally, another client has recently changed their logo slightly to include a strapline under the logo and wanted this to come up in messages when they send text messages (SMS) to their customers. I worked out the SMS app on their phone was following the links sent in their text messages and taking the sharing logo used in the OpenGraph meta data of their HTML pages. The strapline was getting partly cut off due to the space the app gave for the image to be shown.

Unfortunately, resizing the logo and strapline within the image to fix this would also affect how the logo shows on Facebook and LinkedIn, which use the same OpenGraph tags to bring in information to the previews of shared links. After some back and forth we decided to go back to the logo without the strapline, which happened to fit more nicely in to the space and meant we could have a consistent logo on all the shares. As it is only slightly different to the one on the website, I don’t think anyone is going to notice the difference and think it is a problem.

My Projects

I found a competitor for my Brisk app that has in parts a very similar interface, and staff from the company are quite active in various places I was hoping to be able to promote my app. This, the realisation of just how much I still need to do on it and the lack of sleep has made me stutter a bit on the project. To try and get my motivation up, and also to get to launch something, I did some work to fix the app I use to compile up who to thank on Twitter when they’ve retweeted Farm messages.

That involved fixing some code Laura wrote for me so I could get tweet threading working again, and I amended the Javascript (originally written by Sky) to make it more clear which of the retweeters is selected, and to make it easy to bulk select people since the last thanks message sent. Sky’s code was very easy to work with, which was great as I don’t do a lot of Javascript programming.

Productivity

Sleep started badly, but got a bit better right at the end of the week. I think potentially hay fever has been affecting my sleep. I only get it for a short time at the start of the season, and didn’t think it was particularly bad this year, but realised I was getting stuffy. Since taking some hay fever medication I’m sleeping better, which is great.

As I got more sleep, my productivity did jump up a chunk, so hopefully that will continue next week.

Learning

A little more 30×500, running through some reviewing material and then working on a list-style article for the Farm.

The Farm

Attendance back up to 17, and once again at the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • The bottom end of site building work has gone to Wix/Squarespace
  • Design process
  • Shopify
  • Rack mounted kit that’s too narrow – how?!
  • Car trouble
  • Looka.com logos
  • Car leasing – time to go electric?
  • Client lock in (in a nice way)
  • Email marketing and building templates
  • SPF/DKIM records to deal with bounceback spam
  • Cheers
  • American vs British TV shows
  • American vs British food
  • Packaging design
  • Drupal migrations
  • Reducing confusing language
  • Test data – sweary or not?
  • What will we be doing in 20 years?

Family

Katie had to work a lot of the weekend so I was looking after Tom. On Sunday we went to a playground at the top of the beach in Worthing, then down on to the beach as the tide was waaay out. It really lets you see why the Shoreham-Lancing-Worthing area is popular with kitesurfers – there’s not a lot to hit under the water when you come off your board.

Worthing beach when the tide is very out

A chunk of the rest of the weekend was cutting down things and digging up weeds in part of the garden so I could properly plant the tomatoes. Still plenty to do in the garden over the coming weeks, but hopefully it’ll be nice for when BBQ season really kicks in.

Reading: Finished The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. It was fun and had good characters, but didn’t quite hit top marks for me. Still, more than good enough that I’m looking forward to reading it’s sequel, which I’ll probably keep for when we go on holiday in the summer.

Writing in: I started a plain Notables A5 notebook, with a slightly furry cover. This is a cheap notebook that I got from the Range and it’s nice enough, but feathers a lot (ink spreads out) when using fountain pens, so I’m mainly using a Papermate Inkjoy Needlepoint in it at the moment.

Writing with: a mixture of the Platignum Studio fountain pen I started last week and the aforementioned Papermate. Both good for different things.