2015 In Review

Like last year, this year has been good. And as ever, plenty of ups and downs.


January was a fairly quiet month.

February was also fairly quiet, except Hayley & I booked a trip to Disneyland Paris.

In March, I asked Hayley’s dad for his permission to propose, we went to Disney, and I proposed. it was lovely 🙂
I also left Ghost.

I spent all of April searching for my next venture, ultimately settling on going freelance again, with a forward-thinking view of starting an agency.

May was when I decided on a name for the company, and got everything legally sorted. Accountant, business bank, Companies House stuff, yada yada yada.

In June, I ordered my new car, my brother also got married – I was best man. It’s scary.

August was full of work for me, and burnout.

September saw me, Haley, and her parents fly to Nice for a week of cocktails and sun. I also picked up my new car hours after landing.

In October, Hayley & booked another trip to Disney.

In late November, we travelled to Disney again, but I drove this time. It’s cheaper, easier and more comfortable.

December, was just another normal month, aside form the couple weeks off at the end.

Other Improvements

It’s now been 17 months since I stopped smoking cigarettes, but I still vape daily. I did enjoy smoking, but I’ve lost the desire now. There’s no feeling of tabboo when someone offers me one on nights out. Through no effort, I’ve also seemingly convinced a few friends to try vaping too.

I bought some minoxidil a few months back, in an effort to help a bald patch on my chin. For a couple months, I saw no real changes, but that patch has a few dark hairs in it now, which is awesome! By the time I get through every bottle I have, I might have a non-patchy beard!

I got an Apple Watch in June, so that’s nice.

Learning to separate work and life more has been a huge benefit to me. Given I plan to work (i.e. code) 6 hours a day, it means my typically later starts to the day don’t eat into the evenings. That means my sleeping pattern can be what it wants to me, work gets done, and I have time for Hayley in the evenings – the way it should be. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped trying to wake up earlier though – i’d still like to start the days work at 6am and be done my the early afternoon.

And lastly, I have a much stronger sense of my finances. I now control how much I pay myself, when, and where that money goes once it’s mine and not the businesses. That in itself doesn’t change much, but it enabled me to plan a bit better. If business is good for a few months in a row (and continues to look good months ahead), I can give myself a little pay rise and pipe more money into our house savings. We’d like to buy a house in 2016, and we’re getting closer each day.


Of course there’s goals for 2016.

  • Start working earlier
  • Find another design agency client who use me for all their web dev work
  • Continue with the house savings
  • Grow that beard
  • Put on some more weight
  • Pipe-dream time: Put on a little muscle

On Kodery

kodery

I’m at a cross-roads with Kodery – I have a few options, but I don’t know what to do with it.

The last commit as almost a year ago – 18th January 2015. That’s mostly due to me having to prioritise paid work over it.

When I started building Kodery in 2009, I had a full-time job, no work-like balance sensibilities and no friends to keep be occupied – I could pour any spare time I had into it. That has drastically changed. I have a beautiful fiancée I want to spend time with, I know when to stop working, I enjoy playing pool, and driving with my friends.

I would like to keep the service running, because I have several ideas for it such as an API, embeds, better search, much-improved UI, and better permissions so it can fit much larger teams.

Ultimately, it comes down to time and money. I can only commit more time to it if it can pay its way. It’s never earnt me a penny.

This leaves me with a few options.

Option #1 – Re-work and charge

This is my favourite option.

This would involve some drastic changes throughout the code base to build in those aforementioned features.

  • A full REST API
  • Embeds (but not shitty)
  • Improved search
  • Much-improved UI
  • More extensive user permissions

It also means spending quite a lot of time building in the ability to charge. I’ve learnt that payments are really not simple – there’s so many edge-cases to consider, and this itself is going to take a lot of time. There’s also EU VAT bullshit to take into account.

Aside from that, I wouldn’t want to charge for something I’m not massively happy with, so I’d want to re-build several parts of the app, such as the underlying code that stores snippets and feeds them back to you. It’s not bad, but I’ve learnt so much in the past couple years that I know of any ways to really improve this.

Option #2 – Close it

To close it, I’d have to first build an export function, so you can export everything you’ve chucked into it over the years. Some people have hundreds of snippets, and I don’t want them do disappear as I delete the database.

After that, make final backups of the DB and code, then nuke the server.

Option #3 – Sell it

I’ve never really considered selling before, but it’s an option. I have a rough idea what I’d like to sell it for, but I’m keeping that close to my chest.

The code isn’t bad – it’s not full of glaring security holes, but I’m sure whoever bought it would have monetization in mind, and would want to build that in. I’d hope they’d want to do the same as me if I were to set it up as a paid service myself.

Help me choose

I don’t want to make any decisions without hearing form you first. Fill out the poll below to chime in. You can also email me at [email protected] if you have any thoughts. I’d like to hear anything you have to say.


The poll is now closed.

HTML Developers: Please Consider

ARIA allows developers to re-invent and extend native HTML features in meaningful ways. But like all bolt-on technologies its features are brittle compared to its built-in counterparts.

I never bothered with ARIA roles. Like I’ve thought for years, using HTML the way it’s meant to be used is better.

It’s true that it can sometimes be a pain to make form elements look and behave how you’d like them to, but in recent years, CSS has made it a lot easier to remove standard styling from form elements, and re-style them how you want. They retain their default functionality, which is almost always better than whatever someone in a decision-making position can dream up, but look how you want.

By using ‘standard’ HTML, everyone wins.

RescueTime

When I started working at Ghost, John told me about RescueTime. It’s an app (with a website counterpart) that you install on your computer. It tracks what application and websites you use, and analyses how productive they are.

it lets you categorise. So set Sublime or your editor of choice as ‘Very productive’, as well as the URLs of sites you work on (local domains work too) and your score should go up. Then set YouTube, Twitter, Reddit, Facebook – and anything else that you tend to peruse on a daily basis – to be very unproductive1.

Brief introduction out of the way…

This is where I admit that I’m really fucking lazy. They say it’s the mark of a good developer, but I think I’ve taken it way too far.

rescuetime-2015

That’s is my year so far. The headline figures are:

  • 500 hours of entertainment
  • 471 hours of development
  • 335 hours of sitting in Chrome dev tools (mostly)
  • 200 hours of email, Slack, etc
  • 110 hours of ‘learning’ (apparently)
  • 53% of my time was productive

Now, I’ve used this app for over a year now, but only rhe free version, which lets you do the categorisation stuff, but as we’ve seen, the figured don’t really help me focus.

This is where going premium comes in. It’s $9 per month2, and for that, you get to block distracting websites, and more detailed reports. You do get more, but those 2 things are what I care about.

You could argue that a little self control should be enough to stop me wasting too much time on social stuff, but I tried and and I’m obviously too weak. Paying the tiny sum to be reminded I’m being stupid when I visit one of my distracting sites is valuable to me.

Goals

I’ve set a few daily goals, and that is to have at least 6 hours of productive time, and no more than 30 minutes of distracting time. I’d also like a daily ‘productivity pulse’ of at least 80.

Now I’m financially invested in this, I think I stand a better change than before. I know it’s the same price as a really good beer you can drink in 20 minutes, but it’s still money.

Today was Day 1 with Premium. It may be a fluke, but something’s happening.

rescuetime-2015-12-04

You probably want RescueTime

So go sign up. RescueTime is awesome, and well worth paying for. But you still get value for free.

  1. Unless you’re a social engagement pixie
  2. But I got it for $6.75 for some reason

My Ford Focus ST-3

On September 5th, about 10 hours after arriving back in the country from a holiday, I picked up my new car. I don’t think I’ve written much about it since, or before. There’s more to this new car than meets the eye.

Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset

I’m the guy who visits Auto Trader several times a day, looking for my next car – looking to see what I can basically swap mine for. Can I get a decent low milage R34 Skyline, or E46 M3 that hasn’t been ruined? I’d do the maths, look for insurance prices, tax costs, common and probable issues, estimated fuel costs, service costs, but always end up at the same conclusion: What if it goes horribly wrong?

By ‘horribly wrong’, I mean mechanical issues that cost thousands to fix, not finding out it’s stolen or something like that.

The only logical solution to that problem (in my mind) is to get a new car. But I’d never be able to afford a new car, right? Not a decent one anyway.

I did some research to see what I could get if I sold my 335i privately, and that seemed to be about £7000. Thing is, I didn’t want the hassle of selling it privately. Having to write listings for the big classified sites, having people come over for test drives & wasting my time, and so on. Not to mention the few impending mechanical issues possibly causing issues with people who came to look (both turbos were on their way out I believe).

The only way to get rid of it that satisfied my lazy streak was to part exchange it – I know they don’t look at the cars closely at all, so I was good-to-go with my turbo-breakage woes. A good friend of mine, his dad is a car dealer for one of the major manufactures1, and he said dealers tend to offer 10-15% below market value for part-exchange. That meant, if I exchanged that day, I would get around £6000 for it. The longer I left it, the lower that value would be – approximately £250 per month with my usual mileage.

I also had to work out the exact costs of running the 335i, including insurance tax, fuel, servicing, tyres, and more.

With that knowledge, I looked at BMW, Audi, VW, Skoda, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Vauxhall, Renault, Peugeot, Seat, Ford, and more, to see what I could get with my deposit, and what the typical running costs would be for me.


But wait, why get rid of the BMW?

Fair question. I should’ve said earlier. So the BMW was costing me a lot of money. I’d spent a few thousand fixing various issues, it was thirsty, tyres were around £180 per corner, road tax was £480 per year, and it was getting a bit old. The slightest rattle annoys the hell out of me, and I get anxious if anything feels out of place. With age, you get more of both.

Mechanical issues aside, I wanted the safety of having a good warranty – if something went wrong with the BMW, it could cost me a few quid, of a few thousand. I didn’t want that thought looming over my shoulder.

As Hayley & I save to buy our first house, what we need is financial stability, and predictable outgoings. Running a car that was coming up on 100,000 miles and 10 years of age doesn’t fill me with confidence, not when a big bill can put us a month of more behind schedule.


What I wanted

I should explain what I wanted from a car, before I delve into reasons for not picking your favourite.

  • Practical, probably 4 doors
  • Not be popular with people my age, who live on benefits and have 4 kids already.
  • Fast(ish)
  • Handle well
  • Easy to get regular maintenance carried out
  • More economical than the 335i
  • Not have a reputation (at least where I live) for being driven by idiots
  • Sat nav
  • More (useful) toys than the 335i had
  • Look good
  • A warranty

The different car brands

A lot of people couldn’t give a shit what their car is, less even what brand. I do care. A lot.

I’m not Jeremy Clarkson – I don’t have expert knowledge in all the car brands, but I maybe share some of his opinions on them.

French Cars

I’ve been in a couple French cars in my life, and I’ve never really felt like they were made terribly well. You can throw all the stats you want at me, but to me they felt like they were held together with sticky tape. Looking at the interior of some modern French cars, they’re not exactly inspiring – They feel childish.

Japanese Cars

I like a lot of Japanese cars – especially the kind that people drift with – but the modern cars in my price range are flimsy chocolate box trays aimed at people with hearing aids, or those who drive with the fog lights lit on a clear, dry summers evening. (That actually goes for most French cars too)

BMW, Audi, Mercedes

I’m not a massive fan of Mercedes (thought I won’t say no to an AMG GT), but sadly, after looking at the finance options, no decent car from these brands were in budget. I could’ve got a BMW 116d/i, or Audi A3 1.9 diesel, but they must be like driving a bowl of soup – they are made as company cars, or fashion items. I wanted someone with a bit more go.

Vauxhall

In the South East of England, Vauxhall’s (aka Opal’s) are either company cars, or for kids who’ve just past their test and think a 1.2 Corsa with similar styling to a VXR is a VXR. I’ve also never really liked Vauxhall. Dunno why, I know the Astra VXR is a good car, and does look nice.

VW, Skoda, Seat

Skoda’s design doesn’t really talk to me. 90% of private taxis here are white diesel Octavia’s – they blend into the scenery like a tree.

VW and Seat both have a car I’d like _ the Gold R and Leon Cupra, but the finance terms weren’t on my level, even for base engines. It’s a shame, because a Golf R would be nice.

The decision

My first car was a Ford Focus, so I have a soft-spot for them. It’s pretty much the only car from them that I’d happily own though. I looked at the range of engines and trim on offer, and settled on the infamous 125bhp 1.0 litre Focus Zetec S, thinking it would be the sensible choice, and still be relatively fun.

Then I came to my senses and remembered the ST trim. I had a look at the numbers, and though it was significantly more expensive per month than the Zetec, it would be a closer match to what I was loosing.

Side note, but both my mum and hair dresser told me this same thing: If I got the sensible choice (the 1.0), I’d be bored in a month and regret my choice for the next 3 years. I think they were right.

I looked into the ST more and more, watching hours upon hours of reviews on YouTube – both from journalists and owners. The more I watched, the more I looked, the more I read, the more I liked it.

I set my sights on a Focus ST.

Meeting the dealer

I filled out the ‘free valuation’ form on my local Ford main-dealers website, expecting it to give me a value there & then. It did email me a price range (depending on condition), and that was that.

Early the next day, I got a phone call. I didn’t recognise the number, but answered anyway. Turned out to be a salesman at the dealer. He didn’t really talk about what or why I was selling, but asked what I was after. I told him what I wanted, he did a quick search of current UK stock with my exact options, but none were available. He suggested I pop in for a chat, so that’s what I did.

A couple days later, I was sat in the showroom with the salesman. I lucked out, because the guy can’t have been any older than me. I liked this. We bonded over a love of fast RWD cars, and he understood that I wouldn’t want the silly safety feature options, because we can both drive.

So, we sat for an hour looking at various options, colours, etc. We did find a lovely ST-3 in silver, with all the options I wanted. He phoned the showroom who held it, but funnily, the branch manager had bought it for himself a few hours earlier!

The search continued, swapping out one option for another, adding something I didn’t need, loosing some things I wanted, but ultimately we ended up at a dead end.

The only real choice was to order a fresh car from factory, so that’s exactly what we did. It meant waiting a couple months for it to be delivered, but it meant I could have exactly what I wanted.

The Spec

The car we ordered, was:

  • ST-3 trim
  • Heated leaver seats
  • 8” display
  • Sat nav
  • 18” Grey wheels
  • Red brake callipers
  • Illuminated door sills
  • Panther Black paint2
  • Door edge protectors – I love these, they protect the edges of the doors from touching any other surface like walls or other cars (Not for my benefit, but passengers)
  • Keyless – leave the key in your pocket and forget about it

as I said above I’ve had it for 3 months now, so I feel like I’m in a good place to talk about it now.

Likes

There are many things I like about this car. I’m sure most of them are due to being a modern car but I still like them enough to mention.

  • The mirrors fold in and out when you lock and unlock the car
  • The front windscreen is heated, much like the rear on ever other car
  • Automatic lights, wipers, and auto-dimming centre mirror
  • Like all new Ford’s, it tells you when to change up or down a gear, to get optimum efficiency (if that’s what I’m going for at that particular moment)
  • The standard tyres (Goodyear Eagle F1’s) are grippy, and relatively cheap!
  • I can stream music via Bluetooth or the 2 USB’s – useful for trips with friends who all want to be DJ.
  • All the windows are one-touch up and down. It’s common for the drivers window to go all the way up or down when you press the button further, but all 4 do it on this
  • The heated seats warm up real quick – I’m sure I’ve burnt my arse a few times
  • The seats are all-electric, and can adjust in many ways – my knees are a good few inches above my waist

Gripes

Ford build the car wrong. After a few visits to work out why I still don’t have the navigation I paid for, it turns out the car wasn’t build with sat nav at all. All of my order forms say ‘ST-3 Nav’, but the form I was given when the car had been ordered to be built, didn’t say ‘Nav’. I don’t know if this is my salesman’s fault, or Ford’s, but I’m working to get it sorted.

The window switches are set a bit far back for my liking. I’m tall, so I sit far back anyway, and I still have to squeeze my elbow between the seat and B pillar to open or close any of the windows. And this isnt the cars fault, but I keep accidental opening the rear window when I mean to open the front.

The colour temperature of the fog lights is different to the main beam xenon’s. It’s a silly thing, but it annoys me. Nothing a few new LED’s won’t fix though.

I didn’t go for the upgraded Sony stereo. My initial research told me that isn’t much better than the standard stereo. I think that was a mistake on my part – the standard stereo is fucking shocking. Hayley’s Ford Fiesta Studio (bottom of the range) sounds better. The 10-speaker stereo in the BMW was all sorts of amazing, and I miss is greatly. Sigh. I do plan on replacing all the speakers (with new hidden amps and high pass filters) and adding a small sub in the boot.

Overall?

I’m pretty happy with it. It’s not as fast as the BMW, and it’s not as well thought-out, but it’s good enough. I think I’ll be happy with it until September 2018 when my agreement ends and I can go shopping again.

I still look back at it when I park up. That’s petty much all that matters at the end of the day.

  1. Is that diesel emissions I smell?
  2. The same colour as my first Focus!