Category Archives: opinion

Goals for 2013

Well 2012 was a good year I’d say… in fact with the birth of little Rafferty I’d say it was a great year. But onto 2013; what am I hoping to achieve this year…

Lose a little weight

As per every year I’d really like to be lose a tad more weight. I seem to fluctuate between 11.5 stone and 12.5 stone but I’d to make this more a 11-12 stone window. Hopefully with the Badja being given the all-clear to start excercising again from the doctors in a couple of weeks we’ll start back on with our fitness DVDs. Doing these together is great fun and should hopefully help with this goal.

Give Blood

I know, I know… this has been on my list for the past Lord-knows-how-many years… I must really try to get the ball rolling on this. Bad Todd!

Release a Side Project

Having a couple of side-projects partially designed and developed I really should focus on one and get it released. I already know which one to work on, I just need to spend my time on that rather than being beat by American and French kids on COD Black-Ops II. The side-project I have in mind is an Android app to pair with an existing web service which will also require a web site. This will have a free lite version as well as a paid version so hopefully this’ll actually give me some insight into what to expect from paid apps in terms of revenue, marketing, support etc.

Run a Code Club

I have been meeting with my local Junior school Cunningham Hill about starting an after-school Code Club. They are very receptive to the idea and hopefully this will all kick-off in the first term or two. I’ve already attended a Code Club workhsop on Scratch and have starting the CRB process by registering as a STEMnet ambassador.

Web Celebs and Sasquatches

Since my first forays into the world of Web design and development I was actutely aware of what seemed to be a circle of folk who were everywhere. There were those that were involved in The List Apart empire, those that contributed to .net, those that had authored books on the subject, those who spoke at conferences and so on. It was very common for those who were involved in one of the above to be actually involved in many.

Bigfoot Sighting by JD Hancock, on Flickr

Starting out, these were the folk I kept an eye out for; if they were doing something new with JS then I should take a look too… and if they had a view on clients then I should probably read up on what they were saying. They were our leaders, our chiefs.

Slowly it dawned on me (perhaps I’m not the sharpest tool in the box after all) that these chaps and chapesses were all quite well acquainted with each other.  After some time I formed the opinion that this smallish circle were actually very tight-knit. It appeared to be like some kind of site-cross-linking that had managed to manifest itself out of the virtual web. If one of the members had written a book then others of the group would be very quick to back it up… and sometimes this support seemed to be there regardless of how poor the material was. The pat on the back was always there… even for the most mundane insight or mediocre execution.

I remember one Boagworld podcast (a Christmas special I think) when some dude came on and started talking about a new approach to building sites. He was shouting about it like he’d had some crazy dream and now he had to teach the world. He was, however, just regurgitating the well-known verses of Graceful Degradation and Progressive Enhancement but trying to re-sell it. I was bemused at this.

Please excuse me if you think I’m saying that everything I received from this Web Celeb group was all drivel, it most definitely wasn’t. It was through these dabblers that I first learnt of media queries; it was this circle that brought the wonderful Silverback parallax affect to my attention… and it was these guys and gals who introduced me to cheese and Marmite on toast. I have a lot to thank them for.

And so it was that yesterday, the Responsive Day Out was mentioned on twitter by Jeremy Keith. An instant backlash of “it’s the same folk as at every other conf” appeared… and thus ensued a lovely conversation between Jeremy Keith and Zack Inglis. It was this conversation that sparked me to write my thoughts on the Web Celeb (non)existence.

Having been to a few conferences (note, not a lot) I can say that I’ve enjoyed the whole experience of meeting new folk, chatting about geekyness and drinking beers just as much as I’ve enjoyed the talks. And in general the talks have been good too. I was pleased to catch Jeremy at DIBI as I was initially sure it was he who had babbled on about re-inventing Progressive Enhancement… though I was proven to have made a mistake and loved his talk. I have also enjoyed talks by other Web Celebs but equally have been bored by some. In the same way I have very much been grateful to be in the audience for non-Web Celeb’s talks… as I have also been sad to be for others.

I suppose I should try and bring some clarity to my ramblings (too late, I hear you cry)… and I think it comes down to a couple of points;

What do we mean by Web Celebs?

Are these just anyone who’ll get a retweet by Elliot Jay Stocks or Jeffrey Zeldman. Are these people who we’ve seen on a handful of conference line-ups? Are these the people who appear on Boagworld or have A Book Apart published?

Why are the Conferences full of them?

The answer to this question, although is an easy answer, isn’t the one we all want. Surely a conference organiser wants to break-even if not make money, so why not get a Web Celeb on the line-up? It was these people I wanted to hear from when I was starting out… so surely these folk now starting off on their journey into web design and dev also want to see them too… and are more than happy to part with some cash to see them.

What makes a Web Celeb?

So a Web Celeb probably needs to be good at speaking and getting their point across. Those that don’t will probably fall out of the higher tier quite quickly.

Are they the best at what they do? If we mean designing, writing, developing, etc then the answer is “Probably not”… but that doesn’t mean they’re not good at selling their knowledge and experiecnce.

They also appear to need to work hard on getting where they are. I’ve never written a book (though I was a technical reviewer on Rachel McCollin’s WordPress Mobile Web Dev) but have been told by all who have that it’s very hard work. I’ve also never spent the time writing an article for .net or a tutorial for Smashing Mag. And I’ve never put in the hours needed to record a Podcast. But these Web Celebs have.

The Bottom Line

Do Web Celebs exist? Damn straight they do… but they’re there because in general they’ve grafted away. Perhaps they’re lucky to have a good personality or to know someone on the inside as well… but I can’t knock them for that

What about these conferences full of them? Try not to begrudge the organisers for this. It’s what a lot of people want. If you don’t then perhaps look to attend the smaller conferences… or get involved in organising one.

Do I like it? Nah, but that’s life… and to be honest that’s why I really like the Build It  track at the DIBI conferences. Full of folk who really know they stuff.

So Web Celebs and Sasquatch… let’s just say I believe in one of them.

My WordCamp UK 2011 Review

So last weekend (16-17 July 2011) I upped and offed to my 2nd WordCamp. The previous one was in Manchester (UK) in 2010 and I had an absolute blast… so much so that there was no way I was going to miss out on some of the key things that a WordCamp has to offer;

  • Meeting new folk who love WordPress (and beer)
  • Re-acquainting myself with the lovely peeps I met last year
  • The opportunity to learn some things about WordPress
  • A stonkingly well designed T-Shirt!
Chatting at WordCamp UK 2011
Happy Campers

This years WordPress followed a familiar “3 track” structure which was semi-logically split in terms of the talks and discussions that were held in each. Being a developer of WordPress themes and plugins I had planned to mostly stay on the “developer” track but started my Saturday off listening to a panel chat about “WordPress in the Enterprise”. This was an interesting opportunity to hear about issues that I had never been exposed to before and was glad to have listened… even if it turned into a “how can WordPress play nicely with a Microsoft core IT setup” stalemate.

Next up I listened to Rachel McCollin chat about “WordPress and Mobile”. She covered the numerous ways in which devs and users can get a more optimal experience on mobile devices. I was particularly thrilled to have my Responsive TwentyTen plugin mentioned. This session also gave rise to some very helpful discussions from the audience on their experience and approaches to dealing with mobiles. In my personal opinion I think that actually all approaches are currently flawed… it seems that users and the device market are all running off at lightning speed and it’s leaving web designers and developers a little flat footed in truly understanding the ins and outs of it all.

StinkyInk WordCamp UK Swag
StinkyInk WordCamp UK Swag

I then jumped back to the “general” track to hear Nick Garner talk about advanced SEO. This was a real eye-opener it terms of me realising that my knowledge is very shallow compared to someone of Nick’s calibre. His talk covered some extraordinarily useful WordPress plugins which I will certainly be looking into.

Another session I took in on the first day was Noel Tock’s thoughts on “running your own theme marketplace”. He was a very engaging speaker and presented some very thought provoking lessons from his time at ThemeForce. Oh, for info on the slides etc from WordCampUK 2011 head on over to the wiki.

It was during this session that I actually missed my second fifteen seconds of fame from WordCamp 2011 as over in the main room Kimb Jones‘ popular “WOW plugins” session included my Widgets on Pages plugin. I was honoured to have this mentioned along with plugins some as Gravity Forms and the like… though I ‘spose I should own up and say that I’d been pestering Kimb all year to get it included!

The Saturday social was another great chance to chat to folk I hadn’t yet caught up with and I was lucky enough to be sat at the same table as Scott Cariss who turns about to be keen on security and told me of File Monitor Plus which is one of his plugins… I suggest that one and all install this right now!

The social also gave me the chance to retain my title of “last man standing” which I earned the previous year… though to be honest the competition was light and with the help of the lovely WP Sites folk I had the title (or at least a 1/3 of it) in my pocket for another year.

The Sunday kicked off despite my tiredness inflicted by the night before at some place called Fuzzy Ducks and I dived straight into a session on setting up and running local WordPress meetups. I soon discovered that one was already running in London and I hope to be going along to their meetings in the future. If you’re looking for local WordPress meetups in the UK then head on over to the WordCampUK wiki.

The day then took a more technical spin with Rob O’Rourke showing off how you can pretty much bring all content needed in a site into the welcoming arms of WordPress’ CMS capabilities. It was in this talk that I learnt of Custom Nav Walkers… something incredibly powerful that I think would benefit most theme developers doing bespoke work.

Dave Coveney was up next in the main room talking about some of WordPress designers and developers biggest mistakes… along with some sensible talk and humour this got us all thinking about how we could be doing things better.

The last core session was that where the “site doctors” give a lending hand to the (very brave) few who have queries on topics spanning everything to do with WordPress and websites in general. This is one of the most valuable sessions I believe as the floor is pretty much opened up to everyone to give their tupence on how to improve SEO, better help clients, increase security and pretty much anything else you could imagine.

And there you have it… my views (or at least the cutdown version) of WordCamp UK 2011. Big thanks should go to the WordCamp UK core team, the speakers and sponsors and all who helped put such an engaging and enjoyable weekend together.

Information as requested, Or not!

Did I receive Spam Mail from Keith Griggs?

I received a mail today from a gentleman wanting to start up a joint venture with me. The proposal was based around creating an SEO business (something he said that he was already very good at). So how did I respond to the mail?

I suppose I could’ve been flattered by his approach, I mean it seemed financially to not be such a bad deal (apart from the 100 quid I’d have to fork over to show my commitment of course)… but even before I started looking into the key content of the mail 2 things struck me which meant I didn’t think that this guy really wanted to start a business with me.

Firstly he didn’t address me by name… this is something that unless you’re hidden deep in a large organisation, shouldn’t be too hard to find out. Yup, this was (content aside) starting to smell of a mass mail campaign.

Second up (though I should really have spotted this first) was the email subject line “SEO Experts – Information as requested”… so there we have it… I have never asked for any information from these guys. I honestly have never understood why spammers use such subject lines. Perhaps they think that my business is so big that someone else (who I don’t talk to but knows that I’d want the information) passed a request on for me?

Either way I filed it under spam and Keith Griggs can go suck an egg and see just how well this article will rank for “Keith Griggs send me spam mail”. I’ll check back in a few days to see if google index me for that.

I have also tweeted Keith Griggs to ask him to not send me spam… at the time of writing he hadn’t responded.

I don’t know for sure that this is spam… but to me it sure seems like it.

The Developer’s Linux Setup

A quick foreword, this is how I’ve got my relatively new Linux setup running so please, please leave comments to let me know what I’ve overlooked.

As someone who flits between different computers it’s nice to have a common set of tools to help me as a developer… and have a new Ubuntu setup in my home office I thought I’d document those which really help me in day to day work etc.

Development Tools

SciTE – As an all-round editor I just love SciTE (and it’s fun to say it’s name too). It’s a no-nonsense editor with a vast amount of languages supported.

Eclipse – OK, so I don’t really like eclipse but as a tool for developing for Android it does it’s job just fine.

Firefox – Yup, an excellent browser which also hosts some excellent add-ons (Firebug, Web Developer, ColorZilla)

Designer Tools

Balsamiq – For wireframing websites, web apps and mobile applications Balsamiq is pretty good.

Communication

Tweetdeck – What can I say about Tweetdeck apart from it’s a brilliant client for Twitter and Facebook.

Skype – The current Skype client on linux is a little ‘clumsy’ in my opinion and is a fair few releases behind it’s Windows counterparts. As a basic VoIP client though it’s second to none.

Utilities

Adobe Air – This cross platform runtime environment enables you to take advantage of some really super tools and applications.

Dropbox – This is just one of the dandiest apps around… brilliant cloud based storage with cross platforms clients. If you haven’t got it yet what are you waiting for… go get Dropbox now!

EvernoteEvernote is a brilliant cloud based note taking and management app

Filezilla – A few linux fans might not appreciate me mentioning GUI (s)FTP clients such as Filezilla but as an ex-Windows user having familiar tools to winSCP makes the migration much easier.

Working from Home – One man’s take on it

In a recent survey by Skype (and a follow up report on Mashable) it seems that Working from Home is becoming more and more acceptable and in some companies is even seen as an aid to productivity. In my employment history WFH has always been part of everyday working… in fact my first ever boss was actually a full-time homeworker.

Desk at home

There are many reasons I like working from home and these cover a broad range of benefits and to be honest I would certainly look to have “Working from Home” factored into any future employment contracts that I may move into. I may in fact even go so far as to say I’d have to think twice about taking on employment in an organisation that didn’t provide such a benefit.

So, what do I think the pros and cons are of working from home?

Let’s start with the downsides

Distractions : Yup, this can be an issue… especially when I first got the opportunity to work from home. It’s very tempting to have the TV on in the background but for me this meant my productivity plummeted. Of course there can be far bigger distractions, such as kids and spouses… these are probably harder to work around. In these latter cases it might be worth looking into Shed Working instead.

Lack Of Contact : If you’re job doesn’t involve much interaction then its not too uncommon to go a bit crazy and get cabin fever. I find that the increasing amount of social circles such as Facebook and Twitter though have certainly helped me feel me like I’m part of a crowd even when sitting at my desk at home… all by myself.

Drawing the line : Here I’m referring to the line between working hours and non-working hours. With work only be a room away it’s easy to start earlier and finish later… it can be tough sometimes to get out of the “work” mindset when you’re at home. I have heard that some home-workers actually dress for work and wear shoes during working hours. And others even leave the house and walk around the block.

But on the positive

Fewer Distractions : OK, so I listed this above as a con but if you’ve mastered to control the negative distractions then actually working from home can provide some much sought after “quiet time”. I find this most desirable when I’ve got some work on that requires me to get my head down and just be productive. Imagine the last time you had to do something which required a fairly high level of concentration but all you could here was Jane and “that guy from marketing” chattering away about which was better, Zizzi’s on Pizza Express… or if it’s not them it’s a constant queue of people at your desk… your work is just never gone get done.

Delivery Men : Nope, I don’t want to go down that route you dirty minded lot! What I’m referring to is the freedom to be at home when you know that you’ve got a delivery coming or when the boilers being serviced. Being able to be around for these kinds of events is truly a benefit. In fact the plus-side to be able to be geographically at home stretches to many scenarios.

Your Own Coffee : Yes, this really is a big deal. I get to drink my favourite coffee… in my favourite mug… and perhaps I’ll even accompany it with a hot cross bun.

The Commute : Speaks for itself really.

So in summary

I love it… in fact I love the ability to work from home just as much as the actual working from home.