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.

Weeknotes 21: 27th May 2019 – 2nd June 2019

27th May 2019 – 2nd June 2019

A busy work week

Client work

Lots of changes for two of my onrunning clients, but nothing particularly write about within it. For another I was doing Google Ads (Adwords) and more social media work, and looking back at what search terms they’ve received traffic for through Google Ads which I could then write content around to try and get them more visitors from normal search results.

My Projects

I used the alpha version of my app for some client work and have realised the page where you make negative keywords is more confusing now the suggestions are coming in. I’m pondering on how to change that without having to re-do the whole page. I think putting some thin lines between each chosen search term might be enough, so I need to put that in and see how it feels in use.

Productivity

Sleep started out OK, then went downhill as my brain decided 5am was a good time to wake up and not get back to sleep for several days in a row. This has happened before when I’ve been consistently worken up by my son at particular times of the night – eventually my brain decides that’s the time I’m supposed to wake up. I’m not sure how to fix it, but it has faded off before.

Katie had the week off to spend with Tom over half term, so I had full work days for the whole week. This meant I got a lot more done, apart from on Thursday which was knocked by really bad sleep.

Learning

I continued with 30×500, finishing a lesson on understanding my audience’s underlying worldviews and attitudes and how to look at which of mine overlap with them.

The Farm

Attendance was only 12 on a cold and drizzly night. As usual we met in the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Growing your own food
  • Interviews
  • Boris Johnson to go to court over £350m lies
  • Chris Gibson’s security podcast
  • Brexit
  • Splits in the major political parties
  • Dog puns
  • Learning Vue.js – easy after learning React
  • Art and colour
  • Brighton Fringe comedy
  • Artists Open Houses
  • New children
  • Working when very tired
  • Burnout
  • Night storage heaters mean the landlord will be a bastard

Sky very kindly gave me some tomato plants and a courgette plant. I managed to get these in to pots full of compost we’ve made (developed? We don’t have a lot to do with making compost, we let the worms get on with it.) The potting was squeezed in late on Thursday as it was getting dark, but the plants seem to have survived OK. They’ll eventually go in to the garden, but they need to be kept alive while I find time to dig the weeds out of where they’re going.

Young tomato and courgette plants in pots

Family

It was Katie’s birthday at the weekend and we went for lunch with her parents at a local restaurant which has a climbing frame activity centre thing in their garden, which was great for keeping Tom distracted.

Reading: Still reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Still going well.

Writing with: a Platignum Studio fountain pen which I was given for my birthday. It’s a very nice writer, with a medium nib which makes the lines a bit thicker than I’d really like but it feels so good I can ignore that.

Writing in: the last few pages of my Flying Tiger “Bullet Journal” notebook. Pondering what to use next, I have another of these in a different colour, but I’d like to vary things a bit and maybe have a plain notebook after several months of dot grid ones.

Weeknotes 20: 20th May 2019 – 26th May 2019

20th May 2019 – 26th May 2019

Birthdays and work days.

Client work

Various updates for all of my clients. This included trying to use If This Then That to automatically post the items in an RSS feed to Twitter. That went badly as the only set up I could find for doing that was extracting the information differently to how I wanted. So instead I used dlvr.it to do the posting to Twitter instead.

Dlvr.it has been reliable for another client, their free account only allows the consumption of three RSS feeds, which is fair enough. This client had more than that that they wanted to post from, but they were all quite quiet so didn’t really want to pay for an account. I wrote them a new RSS feed which merged together the separate news feeds each main department had, and new jobs, which solved this problem.

I had a day at The Skiff coworking space with Laura to tackle a bunch of the work needed for our mutual clients. A lot of that was around the Apply with Indeed system two of the clients are using and working in the same place helped a lot with making progress. I love the flexibility of coworking for this – the ability to work together when needed, but not all the time.

My Projects

Some notes on a new section I need for Brisk, but no decent progress.

Productivity

Sleep was better, productivity was mainly curtailed by Katie having a lot of late shifts so I was doing a lot of the school runs, although family did one which let me have a good Monday.

Thursday was almost a complete write off work-wise as it was a big birthday for my dad and I went to lunch with my parents and lots of relatives, then went straight to childcare mode. It was great seeing everyone, although not great for billable time. Given the hours lost over the week I’d usually have caught up at the weekend, but as that contained my birthday, I didn’t do that.

Learning

This got lost in all the non-work time this week.

The Farm

Attendance was 17, we met once again in the Caxton Arms. My notes were…

  • Busy weeks
  • Fishing
  • iOS development
  • The problems of buying extra tall clothes, not extra tall and extra wide clothes
  • Big shoes stories
  • Bad hips
  • The joys of growing some of your own food
  • SCSS and when to use it over CSS
  • Structuring CSS sensibly
  • Influencer marketing
  • OCD and phones and cupboards
  • Giving webinars
  • Comedy/improv training
  • Working on your own projects
  • New high resolution monitor
  • Tomatoes

I had a long conversation with Dan as we both have the same problem – we have to buy very large tops to get a sleeve length long enough to reach over our wrists, but then have a body size large enough to fit two people in. And needing size 13 (UK) shoes means ordering from the internet and doing a lot of sending back. Tall people problems. Given how many men in their 20s are at least as tall as me, I’m hoping clothes manufacturers start providing more extra tall clothes in mainstream shops soon.

Hardware

The Samsung U28E590D monitor I got for the Skiff is a massive improvement over my 13 year old Mirai monitor, very high resolution and lots of space for everything. It came with a Displayport cable but I didn’t realise that of course my laptop has a mini-DisplayPort port, not a big version, so I’ve had to order an extra cable to be able to get the best from the monitor. Currently I’m using it via HDMI, but it should run at a higher refresh rate with the cable I’ve ordered.

I also ordered a Perixx vertical mouse, which is pretty comfortable. I’ve used a Perixx split keyboard for ages and so was willing to take a risk on another of their products even though they’re not a big brand name. The mouse is decent – a good shape, rubbery where your thumb rests so easy to move around, and a good buy at £15. It’s not as good as my Evoluent one I use at home, but is a heck of a lot cheaper so the Perixx is well worth trying if you’d like to test a vertical mouse. Now I’ve used one for a while, I hate using normal mice as I can feel my arm twisting when using them.

As I now have a bunch of ergonomic equipment, especially mice and alternatives, I was thinking of writing up some reviews of how I find them. Another thing to add to my list.

Visiting

Leonardslee Gardens. Recently re-opened under new ownership after a few years closed. They’re obviously still sorting the place out after it wasn’t maintained for a lot of the time it was closed, but it’s very beautiful.

Trees and small lake at Leonardslee Gardens in Sussex

Reading: Still reading The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers. Going well.

Writing with: the Papermate Inkjoy Needlepoint, almost empty but I got a new pen for my birthday so will likely be using that next week.