Let’s make me a website!

Okay, so, I need to spruce this place up.  What’s my first step?

The first step is deciding what kind of content I want to have on the site.  Obviously, there will be blog posts – we already have some of those.  Anything else?

Well, what is the goal of this site?  The goal is to showcase my ability as a web…what am I exactly?  Well, a bit of a jack of all trades at the moment.  What kind of content do we need to highlight all the things i jack up?

I think there should be a section called ‘labs’ or something similarly cheesy where we can highlight code and or sites that I’m involved with.

I’d also like to have a section where I can bring attention to things I find that might be useful.  This is partially just for me – I find a TON of things that I look at and then forget to go back to.  Keeping track of them, and maybe even giving me a way to make some notes about them at the same time, would be great.

A contact section of course.  If you want to give me a million dollars a year so I can help make your website awesome, I definitely want you to get in touch.  Social media links, a contact form, some kind of spam-resistant email address maybe.  Phone?  That’s probably sufficient.

And that should do it.

Okay, so, I’m off to do some wireframes.  I’ll show them to you next time.

Reinvention Reboot

So, if you are keeping score, you will notice that I’m massively behind on my reinvention process.  On a good note, there hasn’t been a total lack of progress.  I’ve sassed some Sass, I’ve grunted some Grunt…okay, I’ll stop.  I’ve played around with PhoneGap and Cordova (and found out they aren’t exactly the same).  I’ve taken a look at different CSS organizational ideas – BEM, SMACSS, etc.

But not the amount of progress I had been hoping to make.

And of course, the most important part, where I attempt to document my progress, has failed miserably.  I must say, dear reader, that you haven’t been doing your part and keeping me to task though!

But, after much whining and gnashing of teeth, the buck really does stop here, and it’s a me thing.

So, with hopefully better results than the reset on US/Russian relations we recently had, lets reboot this reinvention, starting today.  I’ll post at least once a week, and talk about something I’ve done, learned, pontificated on, or at least let you know I’m still alive.

In return, you have to let me know when I’m not doing so well.  Just kidding – I’m already great at that at least. :)

Time, fleeting time

It seems that there is never enough time to do all the things you want to do.  I’m behind on my personal reinvention process, of course.  Nothing new.  Will be trying to get caught up – have some time off coming up, so should be able to make some progress then.

I know a lot of people will track it back to disorganization, of which I’m often guilty, of follow-through, guilty again at times.  I admire those people who seem to always have their act together even when they seem to be involved in 10 times as many things as I am.  Just haven’t found that trick yet.

In a follow up to the information feast or famine post, I’m going to be posting here about some resources and posts I find.  Something to keep the post count a bit higher, while still trying to keep it useful and not just the usual blather.

Informational Feast or Famine

Feast or famine is a problem when it comes to information.  Rarely do we have a perfect flow of just enough, just the right, or any other ‘just…’ set of information.

Famine.

Today my parents were in town and my Mom (hi Mom!  Love you!) has a new Windows 8 laptop which she says has a touch screen.  She somehow turned if off, and wasn’t sure how to turn it back on.  Being a bit of a geek, I wanted to play around with the touch screen and see if I thought it really added anything to the laptop experience.

So, I start looking around for buttons, function keys, settings in the software — and couldn’t find anything.  Ah well, I’ll look for it on Google (God Bless Google!).

After about a half hour of searching, I couldn’t even determine whether it HAD a touch screen, let alone how to turn it on. Famine.

Feast.

Contrast that with my typical stream of email, RSS feeds, and tweets each day.  I try and stay aware of new things and changes in the web & mobile industry even if I don’t completely delve into them, and it is impossible to keep up.

Well, maybe not impossible.  It’s like the story my Dad (hi Dad!  Love you!) told of a man who went nuts and started shooting at people from his house one day.  When the danger was over the police entered his house to find several dozen birds and other assorted animals. All nicely kept, well tended.  They figured it would take about 6 hours a day to clean cages, feed them, etc. to keep them as well maintained as they were.

Yes, you could do it.  But you wouldn’t have any time for anything else in your life, and it would drive you nuts in the process.  Feast.

Solutions.

The famine scenario is a bit hard to handle.  In my example above, I’m sure if I had kept digging into it I would have found an answer eventually – but my mom is happy with no touch screen, and my parents were only here for a limited time.  Would I rather spend it frantically googling, or spend the time with them?

The feast scenario is a bit easier, though equally frustrating to me.  You simply have to censor your streams of information.  Cut down on who sends you emails, what RSS feeds you keep up with, who you follow on twitter.  But what if you miss out on something?  You are going to anyway.

I would rather have to deal with feast than famine, but they both can drive you a little batty if you don’t handle them well.

To which everyone who knows me is screaming at their screens that I was a bit batty to begin with.

 

What to do, what to do????

Okay, so here’s the plan on what I’m going to be spending the next year doing.  I’m going to be concentrating on 3 areas for professional development.

  • Tools / Workflow
  • Javascript
  • WordPress (PHP)

I’ve already started on the tools/workflow.  A good developer has for years now needed to be able to use a version control system.  I do use Subversion at work, but it really isn’t used for all the features it could provide – it’s mainly just a place to store our code and prevent one person overwriting another person’s changes.  Important, but not the full power of version control.

So, if I know that I need to increase my usage of a version control system, and more fully utilize its features, what should I do?  Should I keep using Subversion but expand how I use it?  Or try something else?

Given that all the cool kids use Git, maybe I should?  And if I’m using Git, should I follow all the cool kids and use Github?  What about private repositories for client code?

After doing some investigating, I’ve decided that using Git and Github is almost unavoidable anyway, so I will be learning and using them.  I could also store my private repositories there, but I’m still not sure what other tools I might need to purchase or subscribe to, so I don’t want to start loading up on monthly fees yet.  So for private repositories, I’m going to be using Bitbucket.

Also, I will be using Sublime Text 2, but will be keeping NetBeans as an alternative.  I would like to try a more full-fledged IDE at some point, and NetBeans is free and can handle PHP.  I’m more comfortable in the text-editor-on-steroids environment, but need to see how the other half live.

Public speaking? Oh hell no!!!

Been a busy week. As an anti-social person, it actually takes effort to remember that I need to post what I’m doing.  Let’s get to it.

This past week, I gave a presentation at WordPressKC (I’m going to assume that you can figure out what that is, or Google it if you don’t).  I don’t have a huge fear of speaking in public, but I do get nervous, and it’s been quite a while since I have done that.  Here are some observations:

  • WordPressKC has a wide range of tech knowledge, and while I know more than some, there are some wicked smart people in it.
  • At least at WordPressKC, be prepared for questions, and try to think ahead on things you should be able to answer – like “What’s the biggest problem you ran into?”.  Simple things, but without prep you end up sounding like an idiot.
  • Sometimes these things end up being a co-learning moment – you may be showing someone how you did something while at the same time learning how someone else does it.
  • DO IT!  Get out of your comfort zone, share your knowledge, and don’t worry about falling flat on your face.  Easier said than done, but try.

It went both better and worse than I had hoped.  Better in that the crowd were great, there was a lot of back and forth with them, and I spent 45 minutes up there, but it didn’t seem like any time at all. Worse in that I should have been better prepared.  But it was a great learning experience and I hope to do it again.

Follow me down my personal rabbit’s hole…

I tell people all the time that I’m convinced that I was destined to be a solo fur trapper in the Rocky Mountains during the 1830′s.  I’m an introvert loner, but one that needs people every so often.  So, a life of solitude for most of the year, followed by the big rendezvous once a year, would be right up my alley.

Instead I find myself married with a son, working in an profession whose work has turned toward the social.  Instead of rendezvous I get Twitter and Facebook.  Instead of smoke signals I get Instagram.

The pace of change as a fur trapper would also be a lot slower than the life virtually anyone leads today.  I’ve posted about change before, since it’s the only thing that you can truly count on.  Even knowing that, I am human, and humans often like to stagnate.

So, what does a fur trapper out of time do?  Get with the program!

So, here is my plan.  I’m going to ramp up how I use my free time to do some professional development over the course of the upcoming year.  And I’m going to do it in public.  I’m also looking to improve my health over the next year, and will be doing a good portion of that publicly as well.

Does that mean I’m going to buy ads telling people what I’m doing?  No, but it does mean that I will be posting here about what I am learning, and the progress I made.  It also means that as I develop code, or develop notes and cheat sheets, I will post them to GitHub.  There will be code I work on over the next year or so that won’t be public, but things that I develop for myself will be public.

I’m also going to endeavor to post more on Twitter explaining what I am working on.

Will anyone see it?  Probably not.  But I’m doing this as a means to keep myself motivated, track my progress, whip myself into shape, blah blah blah.

What’s so scary about this?  Well, like I said, I’m a very introverted guy and do not like to air my laundry, clean or dirty, in public.  This will also be a public display of my skill or lack thereof – which may make it harder to gain or keep employment in the future.  I generally don’t like sharing.  But, I also need something to push me to change.  And public humiliation is a pretty good scare tactic for someone like myself. I don’t want called out professionally like Hester Prynne.

That having been said, I’m also a little excited.  So if you DO read this, or follow my travails on Twitter, let me know.  Criticize, congratulate, or just let me know someone is watching.

Thank you!

Debtor’s Prison

One of the consequences of making a rapid platform change is that you are often left with a certain amount of bad code, wrong decisions, and generally just things that you wish you could take a mulligan on.  Learning new systems while having to use them in production situations can leave you feeling like you aren’t doing your job correctly.

The world, however, isn’t too interested in letting you catch your breath and fix some of those things and learn the systems better.  So you have to muddle on and hope that you get a chance to put it right before you have so much debt built up that you are trapped in a prison of your own making.

Of course, EVERYONE has technical debt.  No project is perfect from the very beginning (or from the very end most likely).  The trick is to try and minimize how much you build up with they way you design and develop.

Only thing constant is change…

One thing I’ve learned in life is that the only constant thing is change.  I know tons of people have said that, but we all like to get comfortable in our little areas and not venture out.  I’m as guilty of that as the next person.

I used to work for an internet service provider called Hubris Communications in Wichita. If you are in Kansas and want more personal attention to your business than the big guys can give you, check them out.  They know their stuff.  Good place, good people, and I knew my job there inside and out.   But I lost my work ethic somewhere along the way, and knew I needed to make a change for the good of the company and myself and look for another job.

I found a position with Ascend Integrated Media.  They do custom content and communications products, and if you need something along those lines you should really check them out.  Great people, great place to work, and very happy there. Oh, and we win awards too!

The position was an eMedia Developer – basically, someone with enough HTML and CSS chops to load content into a custom built CMS, style the sites to get the right look, and also build HTML emails.  As a former jack-of-all-trades web designer, right up my alley, something easy enough that I could get my head buried into it and rebuild my work ethic.

In the last year though, we ran into a problem.  The content management system was a custom built solution by in house .net developers.  Only one problem…all the .net developers left!  And, as I’m sure some of you have found out, the good ones are sought after and can command nice salaries.

The position I was hired for didn’t include knowing much of anything about servers (I come from a LAMP background, and they are were a Microsoft shop), or much of anything about programming.  And we needed to find something quickly that could fill the gap in knowledge.

I had played around with WordPress before, helped my wife setup her site on it and create a custom theme…but nothing too advanced.  I’d also created a couple of sites using CodeIgniter (a PHP framework) and been hacking at other people PHP code for a while.  The huge community and plethora of plugins are an added feature.  My boss was like a little kid for a while there playing around with plugins and trying to see how we could replace our custom built solution with one built on WordPress.

So, fast forward to today – we run everything new on WordPress and are 80-85% of the way converting old sites off of the custom CMS.  We’ve been able, through the use of plugins with some minimal modifications, to replace the majority of the features in the old system or handle things in a slightly different way.

There’s still a long way to go to get everything we want.  But I play around with a server all day, run through code on a regular basis, and am excited about the possibilities.

The point?  All of this has been massive change, both personal and professional.  Some of it was sought after, some of it wasn’t, and none of it fit perfectly the path I wanted to take when I started looking for a new job.  But I like where it’s going.

Nothing to see here, move along.

As you can see, there is really nothing here as yet.  Hopefully that will change soon.  This will be a site to hold my thoughts on tech, life, and anything that catches my eye.  I’ll try to keep you posted on what I’m working on, and anything I find that might help someone else.  I’ll also be adding information and links to projects and code that I work on.  Thank you for visiting, and I hope you return when I’m a bit better prepared!