Enough pencil sharpening

Posted
August 8th, 2013
Catgories

I was tidying my flat the other day, and happened across my collection of posters taken from Ze Frank’s excellent “Invocation for Beginnings”.
If you’ve not watched it, go ahead—I’ll be here when you’re done.

As I flicked through them, one section in particular stood out:

There is no need to sharpen my pencils any more.
My pencils are sharp enough;
even the dull ones will make a mark

Whilst I usually come away from watching the video with a vague sense of “I gotta do something”, this time it stuck with me.

Back in the dim and distance past, I had a website: it wasn’t much, but it was somewhere I could write about whatever was on my mind at the time.

And write I did: over the several years and many forms in which the site existed, I frequently found myself writing. Sometimes it was commentary and reflection on world news, other times it would be odd bits of technical whimsy that took my fancy. Much of it, however, concerned the mundanities of a guy in his early 20s trying to find his way through life.
Very little of it was in any way edifying, and much of it will never see the light of day again, but I enjoyed it.

But my life changed—I graduated university and set about finding a job. Other things happening around the same time meant I found myself writing progressively less and less.
In addition, as time went by, some of the content on the site looked increasingly inappropriate in my new role as a professional developer.

In February 2006, after months of almost complete stagnation and little motivation to do anything further, I took the site offline completely.


I’d always planned to rebuild it: to spend time working on a new design, a better technical solution; to work on filling it with content that better suited my professional image.
If nothing else, I realised I missed writing: I was reading blogs and magazines, going to conferences, travelling, always learning. I saw things I wanted to write about, conversations I wanted to engage with, new tricks that I wanted to share, but I lacked the platform.

And there was always Something. Sometimes it was waiting for that ‘perfect’ design to coalesce in my head (I’m no designer), but most of the time it was a form of technical OCD—I wanted to build it on top of my pet project, which required my pet project to be at least reasonably complete.

Trouble was, it never was: I’d get 70% of the way through writing it before realising I was doing it Wrong, scratching it, and starting all over. It started life in 2007 as an overly-complex CMS, and had eventually transformed into only a slightly less-complex MVC framework (christened ‘jaspr’) by the time I finally killed it last year.
A great learning exercise, perhaps, but not one that was going to get me a website.

So what happened?

I’ve had enough.

To paraphrase Ze, it’s time to stop sharpening my pencils; to stop waiting for that perfect moment of zen-like inspiration when everything Just Makes Sense. It’s definitely time to stop trying to reinvent the wheel, especially when I’m trying to do so in PHP.

It’s time to just do it, to knock up a quick and dirty website and put it out there. Maybe it won’t be perfect, it almost certainly won’t be complete, but it’ll be a start.

If nothing else, I’ve been freelance for almost three years, and the lack of any form of professional web presence is starting to get embarrassing.

What now?

This site isn’t finished: in the short term, I want to add a portfolio section and turn it into a proper ‘professional’ web presence; hopefully raise my profile a little. I might even take a look at the design while I’m at it.

I’m going to write—I’m not going to guarantee any kind of regularity, but as the inspiration strikes, expect to see new articles popping up on here now and then.

But most importantly, I want to give back to the community: I’ve been in this game for nigh on 10 years, and in that time Google has been an invaluable part of my professional development. I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for the thousands of blogs, magazine articles and Stack Overflow answers I’ve read over the years whilst learning new skills and puzzling over problems.

Now, it’s time to give back: it’s going to be fun.

And please God, let me enjoy this: life isn’t just a sequence of waiting for things to be done.

For the technically curious…

The site is a quick and dirty Rails app (I am a total convert: thanks Seb), which may or may not get totally replaced at some indeterminate time in the future, and is hosted on a Rackspace Cloud Server.

A note about browsers

I take a fairly pragmatic approach to browser support—whilst it’s nice if things look the same in all browsers, it’s not essential. My attitude is generally that as long a site is usable and doesn’t look too horrendous, that’s just fine.

As such, this site looks just fine in all decent browsers and IE9. If you’re using an older browser, you’ll notice things look a little less great, but you can still use the site just fine.
That everything doesn’t completely break in IE6+7 is a bonus and entirely unintentional.