Jan 14th, 2022 · 1 post

Injecting some life into my GitHub profile

I've been looking at my GitHub profile over the last couple of days. It seems like a graveyard of half-finished or throwaway projects that do not show my best work.

While I'm not in the freelance market and not looking for any roles soon, I would like my GitHub profile to reflect some of my better work. There are a few things I am going to do from now on to achieve this.

I have a backlog of projects that I've used for exploring different parts of Ruby, Rails and JavaScript. These primarily reside on my laptop and be shared for others to use with a bit of a polish. These projects are not, by any means, world-changing ideas. They are just projects that I used to try something out.

What I plan to do, is publish one project/application a month on my GitHub account. I will provide some instructions on running the application and any updates that I may do on it in the future.

I also have several other repositories on GitHub that are quite frankly just sitting there doing nothing, and they're not worth much, so I'll delete these from my account. There's not much sense in having on my account if they're not doing anything.

This month I'll be wrapping up and publishing a ruby script that generates an image for your Twitter lists. I've been trying to get my head around the Twitter API over the last week and the different authentication methods needed to access other endpoints. After working this out on Wednesday night, I'm now making good progress with this script. I may try this out as a web application later in the year. I'm not sure yet.

That's the plan anyway for my GitHub profile. 
Permalink / Tags: Rails, GitHub, projects

Jan 13th, 2022 · 1 post

Reading again

I’m reading again. And it’s been long overdue. I can’t remember the last time I finished a book that I hadn’t read before. It’s been that long.

There are lots of pitiful excuses I could make for not reading. There are two significant reasons why I stopped reading.

The first reason was that I spent far too much time elsewhere. And that time elsewhere was usually on screens like television, games console, phone. The rotating screen exercise throughout the day was relentless. I traded one screen for the other throughout the day until right up until I went to sleep.

The second reason is not as significant, but it impacted my reading. I had a run of books that I didn’t finish. Most of these books were fiction, and I didn’t finish them because I lost interest in them.

Now, up to this point, I mostly read science fiction and fantasy books. On the odd occasion, I would read something else, but this genre was the one that I enjoyed the most. However, a pattern started to emerge between every handful of books I began to read. I would lose interest in it. After a couple of attempts to finish each book, I gave in. Eventually, I gave up reading altogether.

Thankfully, now things are starting to look up. I’m almost three-quarters of the way through my first book for 2022. I’ve also started another book that I hope to finish by the end of the month.

I do want to read more books this year. I have a stack of physical books on my desk that I need to get through and a reading list written down. I hope that’s all the planning I need for this year to start reading again.

If you are curious about the book I am currently reading. It is Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. The story itself is about preserving the human race following an apocalyptic event on Earth. I am thoroughly enjoying it.
Permalink / Tags: books, reading

Jan 12th, 2022 · 1 post

I should have done this years ago

I'm typing this on my new Keychron K6 keyboard. It is a Christmas present from my wife, and I love using it.

This morning I decided to try and pair it up with my work laptop, a Windows laptop. It paired up beautifully. It even allows you to switch to a Windows/Android mode to make the key mappings better for those modifier keys on either side of the space bar. Now I can sit the one keyboard on my desk and switch my two laptops when I need to.

I have been looking at mechanical keyboards for a few years now, and while I have always considered getting one, I always put it off as I wasn't sure what keyboard to get, what switches to select and what features would be supported. In the run-up to Christmas, though, my wife suggested that I make the jump and get one and call it a Christmas present from her. I did. And now, having used the keyboard every day for the last few weeks, there's a thought running through my head.

I should have done this years ago.

How many times have you muttered those words? You realise that there's a better way for you going forward, and you regret not doing it in the past.

You can end up quickly kicking yourself when you realise this. You end up looking back, wondering what would things be like now if you did that one thing years ago.

A change of your keyboard seems trivial, but it can happen with any change you make. You are cutting out caffeine at night, going for a walk every day, or reading a book at night instead of watching television. 

There's another way of looking at this, though.

What if you never made the change to begin with, and you just kept plodding on, having never made the change?

At least now, having made the change, I know that I've made a change for the better. And it's better to have made that change than never at all.

Permalink / Tags: technology, habits

Jan 11th, 2022 · 1 post

World Sketchnote Day

It's world Sketchnote day today! A chance for the sketchnoting community to celebrate this under-appreciated form of note-taking.

I first encountered sketchnoting through Mike Rohde's sketchnotes. I found that sketchnotes provided a way of organising visual notes more linearly.

Before I started using sketchnotes, though, I used mind maps. I've been a user of mind maps for almost three decades now. When I was studying for my exams in high school, my uncle introduced me to mind mapping. I used them extensively while studying. I can still remember the epic four-page mind maps I created for each topic.

Mind maps, like sketchnotes, are visual. However, unlike sketchnotes, they are organised radially with a central topic in the middle and sub-topics emitting out like spokes on a bike.

One minor gripe with mind mapping is that it is always difficult to gauge how much space you need for the final mind map. Sub-topics can grow out from their designated areas on the page, and despite having some idea of how much space you need, I always found that I ran out of room.

With sketchnotes, though, it allows you to be more linear with arranging your notes. Although sketchnotes on a topic might cover a couple of pages or more, they are linear, making for little wasted space and is easier to read.

I still use mind maps on the odd occasion for outlining or doing a brain dump, but for taking notes, I use sketchnotes. I also keep a log of the events of the day using sketchnotes. I call this my minilog. I keep it in a series of Field Notes notebooks.

After a long spell of not sketchnoting, I'm happy to say that over the last few months, I back to using it daily again and enjoying it over the previous few months.

You can use any notebook and pen combination for sketchnoting, but after a few trials with different notebooks and pens, I found the following selections good for my sketchnotes.
I also have two Sketchnote Ideabooks, but I haven't taken these out of the wrapper yet. I want to use them, but I just haven't got around to them yet.

If you want to get started on sketchnoting, check out Mike Rohde's sketchnote page. It has lots of free material to get you started. If you need some inspiration, there are also many examples of other people's sketchnotes on Twitter.

Permalink / Tags: notebooks, Twitter, sketchnotes, mindmaps

Jan 10th, 2022 · 1 post

Another round of feed culls this week

Over the weekend, I started reviewing my Feedbin account to reduce the number of unread items I see daily. Recently, I've noticed that I check my Feedbin account less regularly. I used to go through it a handful of times a day, now not so much. It's not that there isn't anything interesting there to read. There always is. I think it's because I am scanning more of the headlines and just starring what I find interesting.

I'm also concerned by the number of high volume feeds that I subscribe to — Hacker News, Lobsters and Dev.to to mention a few. Also, I have been trying out using Feedbin to read some Twitter content. Neither of these plans is working out for me.

While perfectly manageable to use in Feedbin, the high volume feeds are becoming less and less of a required scan through daily. In the last couple of weeks, I've moved the Hacker News and Lobster feeds to my daily newsletter that I created using Mailbrew. Scanning the last few recent items is easier to read than continually checking through the day.

As for Twitter, I think I'll stop reading it through Feedbin. Again, Feedbin does a great job of making Twitter work, and the ability to subscribe to individual accounts and lists is excellent. It's perfectly usable. In my case, though, I think I would instead check Twitter myself a couple of times a day. I don't need to see everything from the Twitter accounts and lists that I have added to Feedbin, so this week, I'll remove these sources from my Feedbin account.

It seems an age since I have discovered many new websites and added them to Feedbin. The last time I said anything to my Feedbin account, it was a series of .NET development blogs that I thought would be useful for work. Aside from that, there's hasn't been much else.

Please let me know if anyone has any recommendations for interesting websites that I can subscribe to, then please let me know.
Permalink / Tags: Twitter, RSS, feedbin

Jan 6th, 2022 · 1 post

Start now

In the last few years, I have realised that there’s no best time to start a new habit. The critical thing to remember is that anytime is the best time to create a new routine.

I started keeping a small notebook and filled it with sketch notes of things that happened during the day. I started doing this at the start of December. The plan was to get to the end of the week without missing a day. I managed that quickly enough. The next goal was to get to the end of the notebook without missing a day. I managed that a few days before Christmas. I kept going, and today I hit the halfway point of my second notebook doing this.

Now, I don’t doubt I wouldn’t have managed the same exercise had I started on the first of January, but starting on the first of December allowed me a bit of time to get used to the habit and build it up during a time when I knew I would have many distractions. Had I started this exercise on the first of January, I would have had to contend with the kids being off school, taking the decorations down for Christmas and getting the kids ready to go back to school. Chances are, I would have missed one day. 

The point to this is that there’s no point in waiting for the right time to start a new habit. Why wait until New Year when you can start something in December? Why wait until Monday when you can start something on Friday?

There’s no single best to start a new habit. Anytime is the best time to start.
Permalink / Tags: habits

Jan 5th, 2022 · 1 post

Writing again

Writing every day was a good habit I had a few years ago.   Every morning, I would spend half an hour writing into a notebook. Most of this writing ended up in a few notebooks, and some of it ended up here on my blog. Over the last few years, though, I have fallen away from it. Various distractions and excuses seem to get in the way of it happening, but mostly I didn’t think about doing it again.

I enjoy writing, but the urge to pick up this habit again came while I was looking for a new job last autumn. I needed a change in my career, so I started applying for a few different web development roles. Not wanting to miss out on anything, I applied for several web development roles, including some at the more recognisable places like Shopify and Basecamp.

While my applications were unsuccessful, the application process highlighted how important the writing process was. It was something that I did very little of over the last few years. While applying for both positions, I enjoyed putting together my cover letters and editing them to ensure that my application stood out. It triggered my want to write again. 

On Sunday morning, I decided to write about my battle with New Year resolutions. Before I knew it, I had a few hundred words. It felt good to be writing again. I decided to write the following day again, and now here we are on the third day, and  I’m still writing. I’m glad it’s still sticking. Dare I say it? A habit?

It’s early day yet to be calling this a habit, but it’s one that I would like to keep going daily. If I’m successful and I get to the end of the week, I’ll do it all over again the following week and hopefully the next week after that.

I think I enjoy writing so much because it’s a simple medium that I can use to convey many different things. I use it mainly as an outlet for thoughts hence why my blog can be a flurry of activity one month or a desert the next. I also use it as a means to solve problems and present solutions. Writing out a problem and detailing it helps me see answers to the problem.

In the long term, I hope to keep this habit going until at least the end of the month. How about toward the end of the year? I don’t know. It’s early days yet. All I know is that this particular piece needs some fine-tuning before it’s ready for the big wide world. That I and I think I need anything coffee.
Permalink / Tags: writing, habits

Jan 4th, 2022 · 1 post

A gradual change

I wrote yesterday about how my New Year resolutions never work and why that is the case. One reason is the amount of time I set aside to prepare for my New Year resolution. You can’t just change from one day to the next, maybe some of you can, but for most of us, we need a bit of time to adjust.

Making broad sweeping changes on the 1st of January seldom works as many of us are still in some form of recovery mode. Expecting to make a successful change from the 1st of January onwards is a challenge that I frequently fail. Instead of one sudden change in direction, would it not be better if we gradually changed our direction?

We’re starting to move out of the dark winter months in the northern hemisphere. This move is slow, but it’s enough to allow us to plan for what I view as the best time of year to implement change, around March.

Instead of making a New Year resolution, I tend to view the next few weeks as a proving ground for change. Sure, I want to make a change in the New Year. Still, I know that I can’t make the switch overnight, which is why over the next few weeks, I’ll explore a few things that I want to do different and see which changes are feasible to make and sustain.

During this time, I’ll outline some goals for the current year and break down what’s involved in achieving those goals. It might take a small change, or it might take a more considerable change. Whatever is involved, I’ll use the next few weeks to see what I need to do to achieve those goals. This might come in the form of changes to my day, what tools I use, reading, writing. Anything really to make these goals and changes clear. I can gradually implement these changes over the next few weeks to see what works and what doesn’t.

When we finally get to March, I’ll know what changes will work and what doesn’t, and I’ll stick with the working modifications for the remainder of the year to meet my goals.

I’ll also have recovered enough from the festive period that I’ll be back in a routine at home and work. I will be able to make better decisions on what is right for me. Being in a pattern make implementing changes more straightforward, as they are easier to schedule. I don’t know about you, but trying to make these changes on the 1st of January is a whirlwind. 

This gradual change is slow, but it’s more effective than the sudden change of direction that a New Year resolution offers. By giving myself time to recover and adjust, I can see better what will work for me for the rest of the year.
Permalink / Tags: habits

Jan 3rd, 2022 · 1 post

Why I don’t make New Year resolutions

Another year, another chance to start over again. How many of us have pledged to make a change in 2022? More to the point, how many of us will fail in these New Year resolutions? Probably most of us.

When it comes to new year resolution's, we often fail to meet these resolutions within the first few weeks. I've lost track of the number of times I have been unable to follow through with my resolutions past the end of January. I don't think I can remember a year when I followed through with a New Year resolution. It just never happened for me.

A few years ago, I decided that making a New Year resolution wasn't for me. I noticed a couple of things about making new year resolutions over these last few years.

My resolution wasn't focused enough

For me, making a new year resolution usually entailed a single statement for the year. For example, many of us would like to lose weight. What does that involve, though?

It involves eating healthier and doing more exercise. Eating healthier means changing what we cook, which means planning meals ahead of time. In turn means buying the right ingredients for these meals, which might mean budgeting the right amount of money for the month for these ingredients. That's a lot to unpack in itself, and that's only the diet part of my resolution. We haven't even touched on the exercise part.

My New Year resolution was too broad. It wasn't focused enough.

I didn't prepare enough

We find ourselves starting the New Year by telling ourselves that we would like to change ourselves in a big way for the new year. However, that change won't happen overnight. We're all creatures of habits, but we're probably more creatures of bad habits than good habits. We don't adapt quickly; it takes time to change. And it's for that reason; I always failed in my New Year resolutions.

December for me usually involves indulging a bit more than I should. We indulge a bit more in things like food and drink. We might also spend a bit more time on the couch in front of the television. Justifying this action as it's a holiday and a break from work.

However, the problem is that switching from these traits in December to new ones in January isn't easy to do. I frequently struggled with it, so my new year resolutions failed.

I needed more time to prepare for my new year resolution, and that was hard to do as the holiday season drew to its climactic end.

It's just not for me

For me, making a New Year resolution is a practice that invariably led to defeat and made me question why I even bothered to start them in the first place. After wondering why I failed it often, I could see why it never worked for me.

If you are making a New Year resolution, I wish you all the success in 2022.
Permalink / Tags: habits

Sep 28th, 2021 · 1 post

Familiar territory

I've been finding myself drifting back to the apps that I used heavily a couple of years ago to gain some familiarity.

Moving from Pocket back to Instapaper, Apple Notes back to Bear and Things back to Todoist. I'm starting to find the familiar triggers again and, dare I say it, a productive flow when using these apps. Something that I haven't had for a long time.

It's great being out of the wilderness and back in familiar territory again. Long may it continue.
Permalink / Tags: apps, productivity

Sep 23rd, 2021 · 1 post

Permalink / Tags: Nicholas Bate

Aug 30th, 2021 · 1 post

The end of the suit?

 It's hardly surprising to hear that Marks & Spencer no longer sell suits at half of their bigger stores. Suits have been in decline for a few years now. Clothing trends have been leaning toward more casual alternatives, and in the workplace, more casual attire is allowed.  And with the pandemic, and many people finding themselves working from home, the suit has taken a bigger hit. 
However, in the first two months of the Covid pandemic, when millions of people were forced to work from home, M&S said it sold just 7,500 suits - a fall of 80% compared to the same period in the previous year. 

—  Suit you sir? Not any more at some M&S stores
Since I left school, I've always had at least one suit. Over the last few years, though, I'm down to a single suit and a small collection of smart trousers and shirts. I rarely need to wear a suit. In fact, the last time I wore a suit might have been about two or three years ago.

That's not to say I'll not own a suit. I'll always have one, and I'll always recommend to my sons that they own at least one suit. There's always going to be an occasion for a suit. It's just that these days, it's less often than before.
Permalink / Tags: fashion

Aug 28th, 2021 · 1 post

A good day

Proud of Ethan winning his first Junior Club Championship at Paisley Golf Club.

A superb match over 36 holes that went to a second playoff hole before the winner was decided.
Permalink / Tags: golf, Ethan

Aug 20th, 2021 · 1 post

Build paths first

Michael Wade explains the sidewalk rule and why we should build paths first.
Keeping things simple and action-oriented is difficult and yet if that orientation is not present from the start, it may be too late. Territory may already have been seized and boundaries drawn.

The Sidewalk Rule 
In a recent project, I took the advice of another team when setting up a new project and categorising the work involved based on a template this team used. In doing so, I complicated the project before it even began. I should have built paths first before building sidewalks.
Permalink / Tags: Business, project management, agile

Aug 19th, 2021 · 1 post

Looking forward to Foundation, Apple's take on Isaac Asimov's novels.
Permalink / Tags: Apple, books, TV, scifi

Aug 18th, 2021 · 3 posts

Star Wars Visions trailer

The trailer for the new Star Wars anime anthology is impressive, most impressive.

In other news, I should really get YouTube embeds working on my site.
Permalink / Tags: Star Wars, trailers

Permalink / Tags: family, toys

Time and attention are unrelated

Jason Fried recounts a tale showing that time and attention are unrelated.
What I don’t have – and what I can’t squeeze in – is more attention. Attention is a far more limited resource than time. So what I should say is “I don’t have the attention”. I may have 8 hours a day for work, but I probably have 4 hours a day for attention.

The difference between time and attention
Permalink / Tags: productivity

Aug 17th, 2021 · 2 posts

The new update to the Things app sounds rather good. You can now use bullet lists and Markdown in your task's notes.
Permalink / Tags: tools, apps, productivity

A long overdue course correction

It appears the wheels have come off my system for managing my workload. Again.

I say again because this seems to happen every few months. There I am trundling along all happy and productive, and then one day, I forget to do something, and I end up having to get myself back on track and build up the habit again. This time is a wee bit different, though. For a few months now, I’ve been strolling along, just doing what needs to get done and letting a bunch of other things slide.

Now it feels like I’ve spent enough time ignoring what I have let slide, and I need to do something about it. Unlike in the past, when I’ve been able to get back up and running in a few days, this is going to take slightly longer. I’ve got some major housekeeping to do over the next few weeks, and it’s going to be a significant pain, but it needs to get done.

The first task is getting everything that I want to do collected in one space. In the past, I’ve used several methods for doing this, including dumping everything to a list or adding everything to a task management app.

Something I haven’t used for a while, though, is a mind map. With the bonus of being paper-based and away from a distracting screen, it lets me group and order everything while I’m collecting it without too much fuss. I’m quite looking forward to it.
Permalink / Tags: tools

Matthew Lang

Freelance web developer specialising in Ruby on Rails