Are you failing?

Right now I reckon in some way you’re failing at something.

I know I am, but I’m Ok with it.

Seriously.

To succeed you need to have criteria to define the success by. I’m a bit uneasy with the term ‘success criteria’ as it’s a bit too management speak so let’s call these criteria goals shall we?

You’ll never know if you are successful if you don’t set goals.

How is business? Your career? That meeting you just spent 5 hours in? What about that existing client relationship, is it working out? How do you feel about the direction of your life right now? How’s your marriage? Your progress re-decorating the house?

You can’t answer those questions authoritatively without have a baseline. A goal, target, whatever you want to call it.

With goals set life can become easier. You may actually be working harder as you’re motivated and productivity is up, but the important thing is that the things you’re doing either are, or as is sometimes likely the case, are not, meeting your objectives. At least you’ll know; the uncertainty is removed.

I’d argue that you should have goals set for lots of different parts of your life. Personal and business; home, work and social. Before you do something you can ask yourself “Is doing this thing going to meet any of my objectives” and clearly if you don’t have those objectives defined you’re never going to know!

But here’s the thing: even if you end up doing that task, taking on that job, sitting through that meeting that you’re not really sure why you’re at, life feels a little easier if you know that this little possible failure is just a rut in the path. Overall you’re moving the the right direction, the direction you’ve mapped out.

Also, don’t get hung up about other people’s ‘success criteria’. Judge your life against your own benchmarks, not what you are second-guessing others might be thinking about you. The most likely thing is they don’t care, they are too busy thinking about themselves anyway. But I digress, that’s a confidence thing and a totally different article.

Take control. Set some goals & start winning.

JSDI

This article was originally posted on The Pastry Box in May 2014.

Do you have an itch that you keep meaning to scratch? An idea that just won’t go away but life keeps getting in the way?

As hard as you might try you’re never able to carve out enough time to move things forwards?

Welcome to the very non-exclusive club.

I’m sorry to be the one to break this to you but acts of $deity notwithstanding you’re always going to be busy with work / business / family / hobby / health / whatever. There is no pixie waiting to come along and sprinkle his or her magic dust to help you free up the time.

You’re going to have to make the time.

You could go to bed an hour earlier so you can wake up an hour earlier, work on it in your lunch hour, drop your hours to 4 days a week, hire a junior or a PA and outsource some of your workload to them. These or a multitude of other options that you might think up are going to help you start getting your thing done.

It’s your new habit. Give it 10 minutes today, 20 minutes tomorrow and a few hours over the weekend. By the end of the month you might be able to give it a day a fortnight or if you really are that busy and it wasn’t just Game of Thrones getting in the way then at least stick to the hour here or there and keep moving things forward.

My challenge to you — and to me — is to stop making excuses and just crack on with things. Sure you need to do due diligence before making any life altering decisions, but don’t let making those decisions be put off indefinitely due to the rest of life getting in the way.

Just Start Doing It.

Project Management Pain

TL;DR – I can’t find a tool that gives me high level scheduling overview AND individual finer detail on each project going through my little studio. Below I review a bunch of tools that don’t fit my needs. Do you know of something I should check out? Or do you agree there’s a need for something else? Anecdotal advice or ideas welcomed in the post comments.

From the very first day of me going self employed in 2002 I have been running multiple web development projects which at any given moment are in varying stages of completion.

I like to think that I’ve become pretty good at many aspects of running a small but busy studio: client management, cashflow management, estimating, HR, quality control and a multitude of other ‘hats’ that one needs to wear  when running the show and the show for me has varied from having 10 full-time staff at one extreme to it just being me as a one person band at the other.

However, there’s still one notable thorn in my side and that is project management.

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Podcasting is hard

Image by Patrick Breitenbach

Image by Patrick Breitenbach

You know how some people jump out of perfectly good airplanes, climb mountains or cuddle a tarantula to confront their fears? Well I launched a podcast to confront mine and it’s called A Bit More Backendy.

My fear is a pretty minor one: it’s a fear of being put on the spot publicly and because the narrative in my brain is running 5000 times faster than my mouth can keep up – or my hand if I’m writing, whole words gets missed out, transposed or just messed up – that I might come across as a moron, all eloquence gone. Words on the tip of my tongue a few nano-seconds ago have completely disappeared with me groping around trying to get the thread back. It’s a bit like a stutter I guess, there’s definitely *something* broken in there, but generally I muddle along OK. Anyway, for now whilst I work on it, my subscriber (Hi Mum) will have to put up with the forced pauses, so’s and ‘interesting’ fillers when I regularly scrabble around trying to get those thoughts back together; hopefully practice will make perfect.

Self-improvement notwithstanding, there are three other reasons I’ve done this.

Firstly, on & offline conversations with Casey Cole, bemoaning the rise of micro-content and other people’s opinions marketed as one’s own (that’ll be the re-tweet) to the detriment of blogging and the resulting comment thread. Whilst Casey has always been an excellent content producer, sorry I mean writer, I’ve always struggled with it (see above) but I do feel that at times I have things to say, so I thought I’d try an audio stream of consciousness instead.

Then there was a conversation between Laura Kalbag and Andy Clark on Andy’s excellent Unfinished Business podcast where they discussed the term Web Designer, the basic thrust I took to be that the term Web Designer fits all producers within the web industry. As I say in v0.1 of Backendy their arguments were reasonable, namely 1) developers are creative – yep totally – and 2) the client/non-industry types don’t give a monkey’s what you call your niche of the industry, it’s just a generic term: true also. Taken in the context of the front end, the UI, I think they are 100% right, but when it comes to my little area of the web, the stuff in the background, the heavy lifting, the term simply doesn’t fit; actually it’s wholly inaccurate. So, whilst I was motivating myself to blog since when did the term developer only apply to the front end and BTW I’m totally not a Web Designer, the third reason came to mind.

Where are all the back end related podcasts?

I had a 5 minute exhaustive search around and couldn’t find any. For example take a look at the .net awards podcast shortlist this year. I’ve listened to over 50% of these and they are all pretty good, (I’m torn between Andy’s and The Freelance Web for my vote) but based on what I’ve heard and the rest of the descriptions, they all mostly lean towards the front end.

I did find one which is Keir Whitaker’s Back to Front show that, if the last episode is anything to go by, is definitely more backend but even so, where are the rest? Regardless, even if I do find a few more over the coming weeks it still seems to me that my front end brothers and sisters already have a lot of choice, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try and represent for the backenders out there.

It may be that I’m solving a non-existent problem, backenders don’t consume podcasts, hence lack of content, but I don’t really buy that.

To finally reach the point of this post, I’m finding that podcasting is really not as easy as it might seem. Sure you can ramble into a mic for half an hour but to get a crystal-clear, tight recording with decent levels definitely takes some doing. Searching on the tech side you can find advice on microphone choice and billy-basic audio editing, but  – for example – how to get quality remote interviews is a larger challenge.

So, its, ahem, definitely a work in, um, progress.

Edit:

I’ve since found:

  • Dev Hell. PHP devs, entertaining and very much back-end focused.

Default changes to Vim

Quick post for future reference.

Just installed Debian or Ubuntu, need Vim back to what you’re used to?

edit /etc/vim/vimrc

uncomment
set background=dark
add
set autoindent
set expandtab
set softtabstop=2
set shiftwidth=2

Tabs are now always (2) spaces and you can actually see the text.

Don’t forget to add export EDITOR=vim to .bashrc either.

MySQL one-liner to obfuscate live user details

Problem: you need to get someone else to set up your web application on another server. Even with a signed NDA it’s not really a good idea to be sending over MySQL dumps containing real people’s details and it is almost certainly against data protection rules.

If so, and you need to do it right now, then this’ll do you nicely as a quick & dirty hack. Clearly, if you had some more time then you could come up with something a bit more elegant.
UPDATE some_table 
/** in this case it's an email address */
SET username = CONCAT(SUBSTRING(MD5(RAND()), -10), "@", SUBSTRING(MD5(RAND()), -10), ".com"), 
PASSWORD = SUBSTRING(MD5(RAND()), -10)
/** this might be some IDs that you want to remain unchanged, say a test login */
WHERE (id != 1);

Scarlett’s Energy Saving Mission

My youngest (5) came home from school this week with some homework relating to her school’s theme of educating the kids on ways to save energy.

The premise was to involve the entire family in looking at devices that are left switched on in the home that might be power hungry.

I jumped on this and may have got ever-so-slightly carried away.

My Scarlett’s homework follows:

—–

We have a device fitted to the house electricity meter it sends a signal to a display unit in the kitchen.

Image

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Unable to programmatically download a Onenote file from Skydrive

ImageThis is not a how-to it is more of a how-do-i? The thinking is that if I distill the problem into words I may figure out where I’m going wrong.

Also, there’s always the outside chance that someone else might have the answer and put me out of my misery.

I’ll map out the problem in detail below with some background for context. If you want to cut to the chase then the summary of the problem is here.

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