Matthew Lang

Freelance web developer specialising in Ruby on Rails

Jan 17th, 2012 · 1 post


Buying Philosophy

Those things we build for ourselves are guided by our own philosophy. Those things built by others are guided by theirs and through our use we accept and adopt these.

— Buying Philosophy by Patrick Rhone


Jan 16th, 2012 · 1 post


Fifty Easy Ways To Make Life Easier

At the end of the day, plan tomorrow.

Travel light. Regularly empty out the bags and wallet of the accumulated debris.

Write down their names. Nobody minds at all.

Look for the best.

Plan 'down' time as specifically as 'work'

via blog.strategicedge.co.uk

There are hundreds of books on self-help, productivity and organisation. You could spend a fortune on these or just use this list. Click through for the rest of Nicholas Bate's fantastic list for an easier life.


Jan 12th, 2012 · 1 post


No biggie

It's no biggie for Buster, and it shouldn't be for anyone else.

The multiverse, the universe, the world, history, everyone alive, your friends and family, you, your behavior, what you are doing right now. You can only change one of these things, and it’s not easy, and you’ll probably fail the first 38,000 times, but by eventually changing it you indirectly change all of the others. After figuring that out, the only remaining problem is figuring out what you want to change and why.

— No Biggie by Buster Benson


Jan 4th, 2012 · 1 post


The Dark Side Of IF

Don't do it. Don't dabble with If only. Ban it from your vocabulary for 2012.

Play with if.

You know it makes sense.

— The Dark Side of If by Nicholas Bate

Nicholas Bate's post pretty much narrows down my review of 2011. I had a couple of ideas for products but didn't act on them. I spent way too much time dabbling, trying to learn and really didn't get anywhere. With some positive news at home, I can now focus on getting these ideas off the ground.


Dec 17th, 2011 · 1 post


Nicholas Bate On Fatigue

But the brain-the mind-is not a muscle. It needs distinct periods of rest, of reflection, of relaxation to be at it best. If not-like a solider in combat who has simply seen too much- it switches off in order to be able to cope. And then the deeper problems occur.

— On Fatigue by Nicholas Bate

That's my goal sorted for 2012 then. It's something that I frequently do. Always putting things that need thinking in front of getting on the bike or taking my son to the park. No more putting this off. I'm going to start limiting my time on the computer so that I can actually do other things to keep myself healthy.


Dec 5th, 2011 · 1 post


My first NaNoWriMo

During November I took part in the annual National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo as it's more commonly known. The aim is simple, write a complete work of fiction in 30 days and your work should be at least fifty thousand words in length. Sounds easy doesn't it? Well I found out the hard way that writing isn't just about putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard in my case.This is just a few observations I made during my month of novel writing.

Plan ahead

Sounds simple advice doesn't it? Well I didn't plan ahead at all. In fact I didn't know what I was going to be writing about until a week before I started. A few things kind of got in the way and I just finished those up a few days before NaNoWriMo started.Planning ahead for something like this is important though, so make sure you give yourself a couple of weeks to mould an idea for a story. Whether it's an outline of your novel or just a list of events that will take place in your story, it helps to have something you can refer to during your writing.

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Fifty thousand words in a month is a big ask, especially when there are other aspects of your life that need your attention. Family and work are two of the biggest things that you will need to balance during your time writing your novel.If the only time you can get to write is during the evening, then pick a time when you'll be least distracted. Writing with a five year old running about isn't going to benefit your focus at all. I usually waited until our son was in bed so that I could get a good couple of hours writing at night.I aimed for seventeen hundred words a day, but that isn't always possible. During the week I gave myself one night where I didn't have to meet my target number of words, but I always made up for it during the rest of the week. This was good as it gave me a little break from the routine of the week's writing.

As for the weekend, I always found that writing first thing in the morning was the best time. I set my alarm for 6am, got a coffee and started writing. Before anyone in the house had woken up and the rest of my crazy day began, I usually completed at least two thousand words. Doing this on the both days of the weekend meant I could keep the weekend nights free.Finally there's work. If you can get to your work half an hour early or an hour early, then do so. A quiet office is the perfect place to get just a few hundred words down, and even a couple of lunch hours a week can also be a good time to do some writing. I managed a few lunch breaks where I completed a few hundred words. It's didn't seem a lot at the time, but it did help.

Keep writing

The last bit of advice I would give is to just keep writing. Currently my novel has plot holes in it, both big and small. Okay, it's not perfect but that's why I am doing a rewrite of my novel later on. You'll get to your rewrite in good time, but during your first pass at your novel, just keep writing.Plot holes, character inconsistencies and sudden changes of themes are things you might come across and you'll be tempted to chuck the whole thing in at some point just because something in your novel doesn't make sense. Don't throw it away, just keep going. Keep writing and let your novel take care of itself.Once the month is complete, you'll have plenty of time in the next year to pace yourself and do a couple of rewrites and fix these problems in your novel. For this month though, it was all about setting the foundations of the story. It was all about just getting a story down on paper and taking part in NaNoWriMo was a great way to do it.

Keep on being motivated

As for motivation, I continually turned to a couple of places that prompted me to write a novel in the first place and kept me on the right path.The first is Nicholas Bate's blog. It's not a specific blog on writing, but Nicholas has plenty of great tips on writing. It's not what you would call a how-to blog in the typical sense of the word, it's more about taking the first small steps in writing. I highly recommend you check out his writing category as it has some of the best advice and tips for getting started.

My second source of motivation was a present from my wife. After toying about writing for a few months, my wife bought me Stephen King's book, On Writing. It's a book of two parts.The first part is Stephen King's autobiography. I thought a career in writing would be a fairly straight forward and easy career, but after reading Stephen's account, I will never think that again. This month has shown me that there's a lot more to writing than I first thought.The second part is practical advice on writing from Stephen. I found this part to contain some really good writing tips. I've been able to already apply some of these to my writing, but I think I'll probably have to re-visit this book before I attempt any rewrites of my novel.

Achievement unlocked

I'm used to writing blog posts, but that's the extent of my writing ever since I left school. Until I started blogging I didn't write anything, so taking part in NaNoWriMo was going to be a bit of a challenge. In the end though, I managed to succeed and on the last day of writing, I wrote my last two thousand words to finish my novel.A minor win in the grand scheme of things some might say, but for me it was a big win. I love a good story, and every week I have an idea for something different. Despite all these ideas though, I never set aside the time to turn them into something.Taking part in NaNoWriMo was daunting at first but it has shown me that I am capable of writing something. It might be good, it might be bad, but it's my first novel that I have written. NaNoWriMo was a great experience and one I hope to repeat in a couple of years.


Dec 3rd, 2011 · 1 post


Leaving tracks

One of the best mentors I had in business - and one whom I regrettably spent the least amount of time with - gave me three lessons about business life:

  • Make some money
  • Have some fun
  • Leave some tracks

— Leaving Tracks by Lazarus Dodge

I've heard the quote from Steve Jobs mentioned lots of times about putting a dent in the universe, but there's something about the last bullet point in this list, that seems not as grand a task as Steve Jobs advice and therefore more achievable.


Nov 28th, 2011 · 1 post


Drafts

Some drafts flow while others need to be circled so all the weak spots can be tested. A few need to be neglected. Others deserve banishment.

— Draft by Execupundit

I'm just coming to the end of NaNoWriMo, and it's fair to say that I can't write to a level that I would consider worthy of publishing, but I have persevered and I'm at the stage where I have only about 3000 words left to write with two days to go. I'll consider the novel a draft, but it definitely won't be banished.


Oct 17th, 2011 · 1 post


Working on the finishing touches for a client's website

It's my second bit of freelance work of the year and my second bit of work in providing a website for a client. The experience has taught me a number of things regarding design, but perhaps the most important thing is that there are still hundreds of small companies out there still looking to make their mark on the web.

I'll never make it as a web designer, but there's plenty of business out there for developers and designers looking to earn extra experience and money.


Oct 16th, 2011 · 1 post


Thinking that these 'patent trolls' are a bloody nuisance

The Kindle Fire is on trial for a number of different patent violations including one for having icons lead to an action on the screen, for instance opening an application. Others include patents from Palm for the ability to run more than one calendar at a time.

via venturebeat.com

Seriously, having an icon lead to an action on the screen has been around for decades. Patent trolls in the true sense of the word.


Sep 21st, 2011 · 1 post


Thinking I need a head start for NaNoWriMo

And Nicholas Bate has just the thing if it's your first time taking part in NaNoWriMo and you need a head start.

Me? I'm trying to clear some outstanding work so that I have more time for writing in November. Also I'm going to be using Buster Benson's terrific 750words.com each day.


Sep 6th, 2011 · 1 post


I May Have Underestimated Building a Product

Over the last few weeks, I've been fleshing out an idea for a product. To test the idea though, I emailed a trusted colleague who has recently launched their own product and has much valued experience in launching a product. I explained the idea behind the product.

The email I got back from my colleague was very detailed and also made me aware of things that I hadn't considered. in a nutshell, they were:

  • Importance of market research
  • Identifying your target market
  • Non-importance of a product name
  • Importance of describing the product in a sentence

Armed with this new information I'm putting my text editor down and putting on my marketing hat. It's time to determine who I'm selling to and what they really want from such a product.


Aug 30th, 2011 · 1 post


Relentless Shipping

The great thing about shipping is that if you can do it often enough, these problems of slipping features or making sacrifices in quality can fade away.

— Relentless Shipping by Adam Keys

I wish more products and services on the web adopted this thinking, but it would also be beneficial to make the development process transparent. Rather than waiting for a big feature announcement on the company blog, it would be nice to track features as their shipped.


Aug 28th, 2011 · 1 post


Getting Free

This left me with a decision: have a rewarding job that pays about half of my cushy government contracting salary or continue on as I was. I chose the former, took the paycut, and I have not regretted it even for a moment.

— Getting Free

Given the choice between more money and lots of possessions and less money and less possessions, I would always go for less. I would definitely find it hard at first, given that I have 2 bikes with a third bike planned to be built up next year.Could I survive on one bike? Probably yes, but I would so miss having the option of having a different bikes to ride.


Jul 18th, 2011 · 1 post


Thinking that I need to stop moving the goalposts

What is apparent is that Pirsig, focussed as he is on the peak, is overwhelmed by the climb, and continues to lose his desire and strength with every step. The monks, on the other hand, used the peak only as a guide to mark the direction of their climb; they were more focused on the journey and its enjoyment, and made it to the top with ease.

— You Are Not Running Out of Time by Rahul Bijlani

A fantastic essay by Rahul Bijlani on enjoying the journey towards your achievements. I tend to fix my focus too much on the end goal and never see what's happening around as the journey trundles on.For me I need to stop moving the goalposts, enjoy the journey and realise that it's never too late to start something new.Also thanks to Buster Benson for highlighting this on his blog.


May 10th, 2011 · 1 post


Book Review - Keeping It Straight by Patrick Rhone

Patrick Rhone's book, Keeping It Straight, is an essay based book that contains all the necessary little insights into life that you need to keep yourself heading in the right direction. Split up into three sections entitled, "You", "Me", and "Everything Else", this book contains small essays that tell real life stories and the ideas and observations that Patrick has learned from them.Rather than getting bogged down in using the right tool or application for the job, Patrick focuses on the actual processes that have worked for him over the years and how you can also use them.

I know Patrick from his writing on his own website and his curated blogs such as Minimal Mac and The Random Post. I have followed his writing for a few years now and everytime I read one of articles, you learn something else that you can apply to your own life and make it better.I don't want to call this a self-help book. Instead you should think of Patrick's book as a guide to getting yourself back on track and working on the things that matter to you and making time to enjoy your life and family. Some might see it as a bit "touchy feely", but the best insights and lessons in life are learned from the real world life experiences of others. It's great that Patrick has compiled this collection of experiences together for the rest of the world to enjoy.


Jan 3rd, 2011 · 1 post


My favourite four of 2010

You know those end of year award ceremonies where organisations award people with prestigious titles? Well I thought it would be fun to list my favourites from 2010. They might not be prestigious titles, but they do make an impact on both my home life and my work life. I thought I would select one from each of the four different mediums that I consumed on a daily basis last year.

Best blog

I first subscribed to Nicholas Bate's blog a few years ago and since then it's been a consistent part of daily reading ritual. His posts focus on productivity and business, with most following a list format or a simple link to an important article. His Brill@BasicsOfBiz series was a highlight for me last year and there were many more great posts throughout the year. For this year, Nicholas has already kicked off the New Year with the start of a new series of posts on 2011 as the year of transformation.Nicholas also has a great list of mini-books for sale that cover topics from his blog such as personal success, sales techniques and performance.

If you're interested in one blog to keep you right on the topics of business and productivity then I highly recommend you make Nicholas Bate's blog part of your daily reading list.

Best tweeter

When I follow people on Twitter I tend to prefer to follow people that not only tweet about a topic I'm interested in, but also tweet about personal topics and people important to them. If someone simply tweets about the topic they're interested in, then I quickly lose interest in what they're saying.For 2010,
Patrick Rhone had to be my favourite tweeter of the year. Not only did he use Twitter to link up to great content on his Minimal Mac blog, his own
website and his tumblelog and other places, but he also posted a steady stream of individual tweets that got me thinking about how I work.

Along with tweets on the subject of working, writing and creativity, Patrick also tweets about his day to day to life, family, side projects, hobbies and other things. His timeline is a great mix of subjects and ideas and one that I'm going to continue to follow in 2011.

Best podcast/screencast

Last year I spent most of my spare time building a Rails application for a local business. It's was never a project that could allow me to make a move to freelancing full-time so I worked on it when I could afford the time. Usually during a couple of quiet nights during the week and sometimes at weekends. Investing time in a project this way meant that I had to use my time wisely to explore new features and options in Rails.

This is where Railscasts came in.Railscasts is a weekly screencast by Ryan Bates that features tip and tricks on working with Ruby on Rails. Quite often I wanted to use a specific feature of Rails, but rather than reading the Rails documentation first and then figuring out what I needed I used the Railscasts archive of screencasts to find the relevant information to get me started. Quite often the relevant Railscast provided me with all the information I needed to get started, and there has only been a few times where I have needed to explore the Rails documentation further to get exactly what I wanted when implementing a feature or refactoring an application.

I'm really looking forward to seeing what Ryan Bates has planned for Railscasts this year and I'm looking forward to eventually porting my Rails application to the lastest version of Rails with the help of Ryan's Railscasts!

Best book

As an ERP developer working to a single programming language, my career isn't exactly varied. Probably the most varied part of my job is the different customers that we have and having to adapt to each different business domain. Therefore trying to stay on top of my career can be a tad difficult. There isn't much scope for introducing other languages into my day to day job and therefore I've found it difficult to keep up with the programming languages that I am really interested in.

Then came along Chad Fowler's book, The Passionate Programmer. This book re-invigurated my career as a software developer. Now rather than focusing on the little tips and techniques that programmers are talking about on a day to day basis, I've my eye on the longer term goal than I'm willing to invest in rather than simply using job hopping as a solution. I'm still working through a plan I put together as a result of reading this book a couple of times and I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of results I get in the year ahead.

That's my 4, what's yours?

So there you have it, my favourite blog, tweeter, podcast and book from 2010. Now that you've heard mine, do you have a favourite 4 from 2010?


Jul 14th, 2010 · 1 post


Why You Should Blog

I'm pretty chuffed with my blogging habits lately. I've covered different topics recently and I'm getting the odd comment here and there. I'm not too bothered about getting masses of people to subscribe to my blog, because that's not what this about.

There's 2 main reasons why I'm blogging.

1. It's good practice for writing

I'm a massive book reader. I've been reading fantasy and sci-fi books since I was a kid. When I was in school I spent a fair bit of writing short stories. Then computers became mainstream and I got sucked into programming for the next 20 years.

A couple of years ago I decided I wanted to re-ignite my writing habits and so to give myself some practice, I started blogging about mind mapping. When I exhausted my knowledge of mind mapping, I turned to general blogging about anything and everything.

The whole point of this is that when you're blogging, you're writing. When you blog a lot, you write a lot and eventually, well hopefully, you'll get better at it. I'm hoping that with all this blogging, I'll become a better writer.

2. It's out there for everyone to see

Writing for yourself is a great way to get ideas down on paper, but if you want the instant reviews and critique from people then where better than on a blog. Now your writing is out there for all the world to see and criticise.

Don't be put down by negative feedback though, yes there will be people who criticise the small things, but in that feedback you'll be able to filter for the negative positive criticisms. Negative, because someone may comment on your writing in a way that you don't like but agree on, and positive if you can take the criticism and make your writing better.

What next then?

Get a blog and get writing. Simple as that. Dedicate 30 minutes a day to writing about something and publish it. Write about something you specialise in or you're passionate about. That's all it takes.

Writing is such an over-looked skill these days, yet it plays an important part in many people's day to day jobs. Everytime you write an email, you're writing. Creating reports, specifications and documentation is all part of what I do as a developer. If I want to do my job well then it makes sense that I should spend some time writing.

Part of excelling in any career involves how you communicate using any form of medium, whether it's written or verbal. If you're a good writer then you can convey information in a clearer way that people can understand and people will notice this. Especially those people in the hiring and promotion positions.

So go on, get writing!


Jun 14th, 2010 · 1 post


The Benefits of Commuting with a Fixie

Over 4 years ago I decided to eschew the typical geared bikes of the time and bought myself a Specialized Langster. Initially this bike was to be used for short 2 hour rides, but in time it came to be my preferred bike of choice for commuting and short rides.

While my bike was setup as singlespeed when I bought it, I always had a niggling thought at the back of my mind to flip the backwheel so that I could try it as a fixed wheel bike. One day my neighbour talked me into flipping the back wheel. It's been nearly a year now since I done this and I haven't looked back since.

One gear

With no gears to worry about you avoid the nightmare of trying to maintain a smooth set of gears on your bike. This is easy to do in the summer, but for the rest of the year, the elements can take their toll on your bike.

Last winter in the UK, we seen a massive increase in the use of grit on the roads to help clear the snow. While it was great to clear the snow, the grit remained lying at the side of the road. Combine this grit and salt with rain and your going to be spending a lot more time cleaning your gears just to ensure they keep working smoothly.

No such problem with a fixed wheel, a simple rub down to remove excess water from your chain and a quick spray of lube and a wipe to remove the excess lube and your bike is set for the next commute.

Minimal braking

After moving to a fixed wheel bike, the next thing I did was remove my back brake. With a fixed wheel, I can use my legs to push back, slowing myself down without touching the rear brake lever. I use the front brake in conjuction with my legs to trim my speed at the moment, but I haven't quite mastered the ability to completely lock the back wheel yet. Hopefully it should come with a little bit of practice.

Economical

The economy hasn't been great recently and people are looking for more ways of cutting back on expenses. A fixed wheel bike is not only cheap to buy but also cheap to maintain.

Ever seen a cyclist just zip through the traffic leaving stuck in the grid lock of the morning rush hour? Yeah, that guys going to make it into his work long time before you get there and he probably won't have spent as much on fuel as you did for your car!

Commuting on this bike has been and will continue to be great thanks to its low maintenance. This bike will last for years to come. Let's hope I stay fit enough to keep commuting!