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!

Burnout

A month ago, I did a talk at WDC that I called ‘Professional Progression’. In the 15 minutes I was on stage1, I very openly talked about all the times I’ve screwed up over my career; letting clients down and making bad decisions. One person said to me:

It would be amazing if anyone hires you again.

It’s taken me a few weeks to realize it, but almost all the points I touched on stem from burnout. Without realising it. I’ve suffered from different weights of burnout, several times.

I’ve taken on too much work and had to bail on multiple projects all at once. I’ve suffered real insomnia and lost 7lbs in a week. I’ve finished projects much later than I anticipated. I even handed my notice in on a project (hoping I could manage the 2-week notice period) and had shaking hands opening the laptop to check emails from that client.

I know there’s people who’ve had it much worse than me, but it’s not good for anyone to suffer from.

Since I came to that realization that it was burnout, I’ve made a strong concious effort to make sure it doesn’t happen to me again.

Scheduling

As I write this, I have about 3 months of work booked in , and it’s all spread out quote nicely. There’s a few days between all projects.

In the past, I’d often tell the client I can start right away, but I know now that saying “I can start in 2 weeks” is usually not a deal-breaker. If the client really want me to work on it, they don’t mind waiting a little bit. If anything, it gives them time to tie up a few loose ends and make sure that what they send me is polished.

I’ve also started adding time to quotes for emails, phone calls, and meeting. No matter how awesome the client is, this stuff always happens, and is always required. I’d never account for this before, which led to slipped deadlines and me loosing money.

Work Hours

The notion of a 9-5 day is something I’ve thrown out the window – in-fact I threw it out a long time ago. When I started my company in May, I wanted to set new rates, and par of that was working out what a day is for me. That’s 6 hours.

I do 6 hours a day of actual work, and the rest of the time is taken up by whatever needs to happen. I don’t work those 6 hours in one lump either. I might do a couple hours in the morning, and then spend most of the normal working day messing around on something I want to do, like wash the car or play around in Sketch. I’ll then do a few more hours in the evening when I’m most productive.

I do answer phone calls, and reply emails shortly after I receive them, but I’m not sat at my desk for hours. People say that freelancing means being tied to the desk from the moment you wake up to when you go to sleep.

I think everyone would like to work less, so I lowered my hours and upped my rates to compensate. For me, there’s absolutely no point working hard to have nice and see nice things if you can’t spend any time enjoying them? Balance.

Passion Projects

That phrase is often thrown around, but I’ve learnt the value of it. It’s hugely beneficial to have something to work on that nobody is paying me for (…yet). It’s something I can sink your teeth into and motivate me to learn new things. I actually have a few passion projects on the go; the new Cross Stroke site which has gone through 4 design variations already, and an app I’d like to use for work, which I hope to turn into a paid-for service anyone like me can use.

Onwards

The start of Cross Stroke was rough, but we live and learn, don’t we. I’ve learned, and now I’m gonna live.

  1. It was meant to be around 45 minutes long.

Site Migration Progress

A few days back, I wrote about how I wanted to change up the 3 sites I have. In between client work, I’ve made good progress with the first 2 steps.

I’ve moved my blog away from the awesome Ghost platform because I wanted to tinker more, and do things with this site that either aren’t possible with Ghost yet, or might never be.

When the API is public (and not read-only) & Apps are possible, I’d like to move this blog back there.

Next on the list is the Cross Stroke site. I’ve had this designed for months, and it’s mostly built but I’m suffering the usual self-branding woes and don’t like it anymore. Fortunately, I can’t remember the last time I for work directly from the website1, so I’ll probbaly just finish it and go live with it. It’s a good oportunity to get feedback from everyone and iterate. Maybe it’ll turn into something I like?

cs-screenshot

  1. All of my work comes from old and current clients recommending me to friends, and people I’ve met in person.

Everything In Its Right Place

Yes, the title comes from a Radiohead song. I was listening to it as I wrote this.

One of the issues I’ve faced in the past few months when wanting to post thins on this blog, is what belongs where? I now have a new company website, which I’m slowly redesigning, and that includes a blog. Where would a web development post go? In the past, it would go here because it’s the only place I had to put things. Now, they would go on the Cross Stroke blog. 1

I have a plan that will hopefully clear everything up. It involved a few new sites, that I’d hope to push live all at the same time.

  1. Re-ignite my old pauladamdavis.com domain, and use that as a gateway to this blog, my company, events, projects, contact info, and link to anywhere I exist on the internet. It won’t have a blog.
  2. Move any development-related posts from this blog to the CS blog. This frees this blog to be about things I want to write about – my personal blog shouldn’t be a business. 2
  3. Keep the Cross Stroke site focused on work. I’m moving away from the one age design in favour of more detailed pages. It means I can focus on my work in a place that’s meant for it. If I were to talk about client projects here, you’d all get pretty pissed.

My hope is that having a blog no-longer focused on work, I can write more about cars, opinions, music, holidays, my progress on gaining 60lbs in weight and what Hayley & I going through as we plan or wedding and save to buy a house.

It’s also a good excuse to design some things and play around with some new stuff I’d shy away from for client work in fear of taking too long. I’m not setting a timeline because I know I’ll miss, but I would like to have it all done in a couple months. I’ll tackle the list in order.

  1. I have several posts written there, ready for when it goes live. Who wants to publish an empty blog these days‽

  2. I’ve decided to keep my gateway site and the blog separate, because short URLs are nice, and keeps it focused.

Back to a Standing Desk

A couple years back, I experimented with a standing desk, by balancing the desk top I had on top of the two draw units I had. It worked well, but after a month or so, my legs kinda gave up, so I had to get out the table legs again and reside to sitting.

Ever since then, I’ve known standing while working is a benefit for me, but I can’t do it all the time. The only way I could stand was to have the easy option to sit from time to time. So, I popped to Ikea and bought the Bekant electronic desk legs and a Nilserik stool to lean on when sitting is too easy but standing hurts.

I’ve gone from a desk like this…

img_5884

…to this.

img_6620
(Excuse the mess of wires, I’m still sorting that out)

So far I’m liking it, but it’s been about 2 hours. Time will tell if the options to kneel, sit, lean, or stand, help good posture and improve productivity or if I end up sitting again. Either way, options!

May & June Challange

I suspect nobody noticed, but I didn’t do a May post for my 2015 Challenge series,. That was because I wanted to keep quiet about my plans to go freelance again. But the cat’s out the bag now.

Pretty much all of May was spent setting up a company, which meant lots of waiting for things to arrive in the post, waiting for HMRC to process the application, waiting for a bank appointment that my fellow director and fiancé could go, waiting for the bank card to arrive in the post, building the Cross Stroke website, setting up email addresses, and so on.

I didn’t have any plans to improve myself in any way – I figured everything needed doing as soon as possible, so I was regularly working from 9am to 2am, and eating badly. But everything is done and setup now, which means I can start progressing with my little improvements each month.

So…

June

The usual ‘get work in and be awesome’ stuff goes without saying, so choosing that as a goal seems like a copout.

Instead, this month, my goal is to be working my 8am. For the last few days, I’ve been getting up around 7am, and working by 8, but that’s mostly due to circumstances beyond my control. But I have noticed I’m getting more done and am more focused. I’d like to keep that going next week when the circuamctaices which have been getting me up earlier stop.

I love the idea of splitting my day into 2 parts; start working at 8am for a good few hours, then have a really long break during the afternoon – the nice part of the day – then do some more work again starting mid-afternoon.

We’ll see how it goes!

Freelancing – The Return

hire-1

I’m really pleased to announce that I’m going freelance again!


Over the last year, I have spent all of my time working on Ghost as a paid employee – mainly developing its user interface, and I have truly enjoyed it all. I have learnt so much that I couldn’t possibly list it all, and I have had the absolute pleasure of working with the most talented and gracious people I’ve ever met – fellow colleagues and amazing contributors alike.

But since the end of April, I no longer work with them. Now is the time to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since my first day in this industry – it’s time to start my own thing that has room to grow. I’m going freelance again – Hello Cross Stroke!

The Work I Want (Hire me!)

Having been full-time employed for the last year, the market doesn’t know I exist anymore. Let’s change that! I’d like to book work in to fill the next few months with projects of all sizes. Anything from a day to a few weeks.

I’m looking for projects like WordPress and Ghost theming, static sites, CSS audits, and everything in-between for June onwards. Send me an email at [email protected] or…

See the new website

The Business Stuff…

Together with a brilliant accountant, we have registered as a new UK limited company, which gives me the silly title of director! We have setup FreeAgent, a business bank account, and everything else a company must do. I now have a company number!

This is scary stuff, and although I have a head for numbers and finances, I don’t want to get this wrong. When my fiancé & I get round to buying a house and getting a mortgage, a lot rides on having correct & stable accounts. Setting up the company the way we have gives us more legitimacy than being a sole trader does. It’s not a sure-fire thing, but it’s a least more probable.

… and in the future?

I don’t know, but I know one thing for sure – I’m gonna work my hardest to make this really work out well. I’ve done the working for someone else’s agency thing a few times, and I’m thankful to say I’ve done the startup thing, now it’s time to take my freelancing to the next level.

I’ve learnt lots and will continue to do so, and I will write about lots of it, especially the name.

Onwards!

Hire Me at Cross Stroke

April’s Challenge

We all do it. We write about ideas with the expectations and hopes of fulfilling them. Some work out brilliantly, some not so much.

At the start of the year, I wrote about getting to sleep before 12am and waking up around 8am. I did that maybe twice?

In February, I wrote about keeping my desk clean, and I was partially successful. There’s now much less crap on my desk – just the right amount of clutter for a normal person.

For March, I wrote about not working so late at night. I think I did okay with that, but not because I really chose too.


My productivity in the past month or so has somewhat slipped, and it shows. There’s more to it that sleep and working hours, but I’m going to be more forceful with my sleeping pattern and working hours.

I’m basically not allowing myself to be awake between 12am and 8am, and similarly, sleep is something that only exists in those hours. The same applies to working hours, which are a strict 9am to 6pm.

My thinking is, even if I’m still tired when waking up at 8am, I’ll have an hour to properly wake up and get in the right frame of mind to work. If I wake up at 11am (which wasn’t uncommon), I’d feel compelled to start work with a brain that was still on a pillow.

I’m hoping that being a bit more forceful with my hours, I’ll start having a more consistent sleeping pattern and feel less tired when I wake up. I’d love to be one of those people who can wake up at 5am and feel refreshed, but I have to start somewhere.

Let’s see how this goes.