Revamping my blog #

Posted on 2017-07-22, by Nigel

A blog post in which... ...I introduce my new website and a change to my blog

I have been running Kirby for my personal blogging for a while now. But what with my drive to build a portfolio, and an urge to build new services for myself, I've decided to build as a new site, from scratch.

Why bother?

Well, for starters, I'm trying to get more used to building up sites in Laravel. I've done a few now and starting to get a bit of muscle memory around the things I have to do to get basic functions up and running. I also like the idea of just building the bits I need to make a site that works for me - no cruft, no unused functionality, just the bits I want. And lastly, because it's there. What fun would it be to learn how to code and then not craft your own tools yourself? Like taking the time to learn how to cook and then living off of ready meals. Or teaching yourself the guitar and only ever playing covers.

At the moment it's rudimentary (and, let's be honest, a bit ugly), but I have big plans, and an unexpected early end to my contract means I can spend a few weeks investing time in learning new skills and investing in my site as if it was a paying client. Keep tuned...

Adding some AJAX #

Posted on 2017-07-15, by Nigel

A blog post in which... ...I start to make things a bit more dynamic in tasksapp

My app is working pretty well now - you can add projects and actions, associate them with clients to keep the different parts of your life separate, and view actions by project, priority, date or 'day runner'. The latter shows you any actions you have that are due (or overdue) as well as anything coming up in the next 2-3 days and all your high priority stuff. There's also a nice journal that shows you how you've been doing so you can track what you've ticked off (very useful for a daily stand-up 'what I did yesterday' list).

This is currently all built on a javascript-free model. Partly because I want to be a good global citizen and allow all browsers to access the site, but also because I have a long-term aim that it will work well in a text-only browser (like lynx) for an l33t experience. So the job now is to build an API at the backend and connect up the UI so it can be a little more interactive.

I'm enjoying this.

I'm using Laravel so it was easy enough to get an API controller set up and plumb in the backend logic to create and update actions. The front-end is all using JQuery api() calls to build the data to send to the server and update the UI dynamically. So far I've got updating of action titles and priorities working, but based on a simple p[op-up text entry field for now. Once I've got the same working for projects and clients (plus added in a nice dynamic delete function) it'll be nice to add in some UI funk, but I reckon I can get it out for people to test before I finish all that.

The only issue I had was with testing that the API calls were getting through to the app OK. I made the error of putting in a dd('made it!') style call in the controller method. This works fine in the main controllers that are hooked up to a view, but these aren't - quite where I was expecting that dd to die and display to I'm not sure. Anyway, once that was resolved it's been a fun new journey to take and I can see a bit more clearly how the long-term architecture of the app is going to build out.

Right, on with the tasks...

Hello, world #

Posted on 2017-07-09, by Nigel

A blog post in which... ...I introduce my new coding project

I've been working for ages on a personal project management app. Not a task management app; the aim is to provide a way to help you manage more of a program of work than just a bunch of todos.

I've been using it myself for the last two years and I love it (natch), but the time is coming to release it to the world. For two reasons:

  • I'd like people to use it and give me feedback on it so I can extend it further and make it as good as it can be
  • My current work contract is coming to an end and I'd like to make a career move into development. This would make a good portfolio.

This blog will be the home of my thinking as the app develops. And I'll also post some film and music reviews, plus occasional praises and rants about things that interest and vex me.

Join me!

Troll Hunter review #

Posted on 2016-05-20, by Nigel

A blog post in which... ...I review an excellent movie

When I was at primary school we had two books in the library that I remember vividly. One was stories of giants (which I mainly remember because my daughter also had it at school and we read it together), and one which was stories of dragons. The dragon book was great. It was quite dense text, really nice ink drawings, and was written in such a way that you couldn't quite tell if it was true or not. Each story was about a dragon who lived in a particular part of the country, so it was almost like a regional guide to the dragons of England. I loved it. Troll Hunter feels to me, as an adult, how that book made me feel when I was a kid. I don't think I really believed that a dragon actually lived under a hill just outside London, and I'm pretty sure that trolls don't really exist in Norway. If they did, though, this is exactly what they would be like.

The graphics are stunning in that they aren't really noticeable. As far as I was concerned I was watching raw footage - here actually be dragons. In one of the extras the director talks about getting the right place for the trolls to live, and then shooting in those actual locations, 'because people in Norway would know if it was wrong'. This authenticity and commitment is readily apparent in watching the film and means that a 100-foot tall troll smashing around the mountains really doesn't look out of place at all.

A lot of films in this style theorise and introspect endlessly about themselves - Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead, et al. "Look at us we're making a film about making a film, and the dialogue is all really self-aware because we're in a film - do you see?" This doesn't do that at all, it's just very natural, well-paced and real. This may well be a function of being a Norwegian film rather than a product of America; whatever it is it works well. As I was writing this review I realised that I've been thinking about this film as a documentary - not a film about making a documentary, but an actual documentary. I originally started this paragraph, 'The crew are really good on camera as well' - probably the best praise I can give really!

Thinking about Google #

Posted on 2015-05-20, by Nigel

A blog post in which... ...I ponder the impact of our search overlords

There’s this man. He brings a huge truck and he parks it along the end of our houses. It’s not really in the way where it is, so no-one minds that it’s there. Over time it just becomes a part of our lives and we barely realise that we’ve just grown to accommodate into our daily routines.

One day the man comes up and says, “I’m just sitting in my truck all day doing nothing, and I have pretty good relations with a lot of people around the world, if you need anything tracked down, just ask”. It seems too good to be true, but we start asking and he starts returning. He doesn’t actually fetch things for us, but he puts us in touch with people who can. The more of our neighbours who used him, the better he gets.

A while later he comes up and says, “You know, My truck is just sitting there, perhaps I could collect all the mail for your street. You can come and get it from me, it’s only a short walk after all, and think of the convenience – I have a big storage area so I could hold onto your parcels and all, save you room”. We need to remember to check in with him every day, but yes it does seem convenient. It’s free and he’s got enough storage for all of us.

A while later he comes up and says, “You know, I could store a lot of other stuff in here as well. I’ve got enough room for you to get rid of a lot of other stuff too; keep your house tidy.” Seems good.

Next time I go to collect my mail he stops me and asks if I’ve heard of this new magazine that’s coming out. “It’s really suited to you I think – I’ve been monitoring the mail you get and the things you store with me and I’m pretty sure it’s right up your street. Here’s a flyer – call them if you fancy trying it.” Odd.

Next time I go to collect my mail he does the same. And the next time.

We used to have quite a mix of smaller vans and cars coming along that road, but there’s no room for them now. We don’t miss them though, and the man doesn’t seem to recommend them in any searches he does for them. I guess they’re just not as good as we used to think they were or more people would still need them.

I ask him to get me a new DVD and when I come to pick it up he first offers me three others that I have no intention of buying. “Sorry,” he says, “but these people have paid me to try and get you to buy these first.” Not much of a hold up with just three, but a bit inconvenient. Still, it’s a free service so what should I expect. As I leave he says, “This new shampoo is just what you need. I saw the letters you’ve been sending your sister and I agree that you probably need some more control.”

I pop down to find out the address for my cousin – it’s on the letter she sent me, and why bother writing it down elsewhere when his truck is always there? No problem getting it, but he makes me sit down and watch a short video first. It’s about a new car I probably won’t ever get, but it seems strange. He’s still free though.

When I came out yesterday the truck was gone. Taken away for maintenance said the sign. He was back in the afternoon, but I missed a deadline for sending in a job application as I needed to double-check some facts in one of the magazine articles that I’ve started letting him collate for me. Perhaps I could do what my neighbour did and pay him to let me keep a copy of the articles in the house.

This morning, the truck is gone. I have an invoice through my door, and apparently I can have personal access to it every other day, for a fee. The man has also promised to stop reading my mail and going through my things if I pay him double.

I think the strangest thing is remembering why we trusted him so much in the first place. And I’m sure that truck was smaller when it first arrived, that it didn’t block quite so many other roads.