They say you learn something new every day.

Posts tagged ‘tumblr’

100 Days Young (20/03/2012)

Today is my 100th daily “you learn something new every day” post.

100 Days Young 

It’s not the first time I’ve celebrated a 100th edition of some sort of web project (using that very Simpson’s picture, in fact). But that was with someone else. Making this my longest running public project – unlike my short running webcomic, for example. I think I managed 24 of them).

I remember downloading all of my posts from Image Dissectors once before and being shocked that I’d produced enough content to fill two novels.

It reminds me again that little and often is the way to go. To succeed at anything is a marathon, not a sprint.

Having targets and counts helps, as it makes you feel that you’re heading somewhere. Having other people comment helps too – which is why writing is such a difficult and lonely activity, since you get no feedback. It’s why so often I turn to coding to get some instant feedback and praise.

Writing this every day has changed my life. That sounds quite grandiose, but I mean it’s changed the structure of my life. I think about it during the day: what will I write that I’ve learnt today. And when I come home, it’s part of my evening. In the same way as I eat dinner every day and brush my teeth every day, I write this too.

I don’t think it’s something I’d want to do forever, but it’s made me realise that I love the idea of doing something every day for a year. Or until it’s done. I think it’s a pattern I’m going to try again. 

Line Thickness (18/03/2012)

For a long time when I wrote CSS and needed to put a line around something, my go-to code was:

border:1px solid black

 I just loved one pixel of pure solid black. Here it is in action:


See. 1px of black border around everything! Then, when using IFTT I had a bit of a change of heart. I loved their bold blocks of large colour.


However, I felt there were two tricks they’d missed:

  1. They didn’t have any hover over effects. I’ve realised that this is really key on any sort of application, and web apps in particular. You really need to give the user some sort of feedback, or show them visually that they can interact with the button in some way. Not to mention it makes the site nice to use. The hover over effect on this page is my favourite part.
  2. They don’t have any borders.  I think this is a missed opportunity. Borders are a really nice effect. If I was designing this, I’d give those buttons a hover over effect and a thick border.

Now, I’m not saying they’re wrong, I’m just saying that is how I’d do it.

I was a bit inspired by the IFTTT page when I had to design a little application at work the other day for logging tasks. Each of the large buttons below has a hover over effect when you mouse over it.


The thick lines, I think, really bring this to life.

Browsing Tumblr themes the other day I found a really nice one that I’ve added to my personal Tumblr.

Personal Tumblr 

The thickness here is 5px. Which is thicker than I’d go – but actually I love it. 

Again, I feel there are a couple of tricks they’ve missed here. The border around the “About” box looks out of place, and the icons for the types are a different style to the rest of it. But I love this theme. I’ve been meaning to properly redesign my theme for this blog for a while, so I may do that soon. This style has inspired me.

What Makes a Good Post (04/03/2012)

L was flicking through my iPhone today, and I watched over her shoulder as she browsed through this very site.

It was interesting to watch her, and read the site as someone who didn’t write it. Looking at it this way, I realised a number of things I could do differently if I wanted to make a site that lots of people read.

I should add – I don’t want to make a site that lots of people look at. This site is really just for me, but it’s always nice when people like what you’d done with the place.

I don’t consider myself an “expert” on social media in any way. Really, I suspect anyone who thinks they’re an expert is a charlatan anyway. But here’s what I’ve figured out today when I was thinking about this.

  1. The first thing you need to do is make your posts less wordy. Watch as I completely avoid this in this (and basically every other) post. However, you have to think about how people use your site. And most of them time they’re going to come to your page through browsing a Tumblr feed or a WordPress tag or whatever. They’re not looking for wordy things, so they’ll skip over you. Short and frequent is better than long and infrequent.
  2. Link-bait is a hideous term, but it’s how you make people share your content and start following you. Part of me knew, with my post the other day about quotes, even though it’s long, it is quite linkable and likeable.
    If I’d really wanted this to take off, I’d done a series of short posts, each with one quote and why I like it.
  3. Tags. Tags are important with social media. As most people are going to find you by browsing tags, rather than through Google. Obviously, Google is important for your natural search visitors, but a lot of your followers are going to come from your community.
  4. Speaking of which, engaging with the community is vital. Which means liking and reblogging other people’s work. I got more followers, more quickly, than anything else just by reblogging things I thought were funny.
  5. Answer one question. My most viewed and popular post is this one. It’s weird, because it’s short and not really that interesting. It’s just how to list all the tables in a database. But if that’s what you’re looking for, it answers the question perfectly. And concisely. And in one page – you don’t need to go hunting.
  6. The final thing is, as I saw today – read your posts over someone else’s shoulder. There’s nothing quite like that for seeing how you appear to someone else. It’s amazing how differently your site will look over someone else’s shoulder.

Initial Choices (05/01/2012)

I’ve finished a complete month of getting less stupid every day now. I have to admit, I get a feeling of self satisfaction when I look at my archive and see it full like that, especially with consecutive posts like that. Probably a bit of minor OCD coming out there.

I have to admit, though, I’m beginning to wonder if Tumblr was quite the right choice of tool to use for a project like this. As I’ve said before, I find it so difficult to believe that the search doesn’t work. Added to that, I actually lost a post one day! I’ve actually had to raise three support tickets to Tumblr since I started using it. I don’t think I’ve ever raised a support ticket for a free online service before. Obviously, I raise them at work all the time, but I never raise them with gmail, or twitter or youtube or anything like that. My WordPress backup site, on the other hand is just tootling along without a single problem. The search works, and there’s a tag cloud by default!

Now, I don’t want to have a go at Tumblr, because it is great at what it does. Reblogging is so easy, and posting up pictures, quotes etc is quick and simple. I also love how you can customize your own page with your own html and css. But for what I’m doing, I’m beginning to wonder if it’s the right tool.

Now, of course, a big part of my “project” here – to get “less stupid every day” is to learn from my mistakes. I’m happy to embrace mistakes as long as I fix them and learn something from them. And part of me is wondering if I should switch to a different platform (maybe WordPress) and use Tumblr as the backup. 

However, I’ve decided not to – and partly because I’m forgetting what the core purpose of this site is. A place to quickly jot down something new that I’ve learnt so I remember it. A lot of my posts have got much more ambitious than necessary (especially around Christmas when I sometimes spent all morning doing them). It’s been flattering to get followers and likes and stuff, but that was never the point of this site, and I need to remember that.

I think today’s lesson is that it’s easy to lose site of the long term goals, and occasionally you need to force yourself to recalibrate. Maybe with this I need a once a month review. Maybe at work I need to do that. Maybe even in my personal life as well. If you don’t do that, you start getting off course – like my thinking was about this project. 

All is not lost (19/01/2012) were unable to retrieve the post I lost. It’s one of the first things I can think of that I’ve irrevocably lost on a computer. It’s somewhat ironic, because I’ve only just started my backup plans.

The “missing post” was about some free OCR software called tesseract. It’s not a massively important post, and I have a copy of the one key thing about it (the command line syntax) which is:

tesseract.exe FILE output -l eng

As well as, somewhat ironically, the pictures. Unlike Jeff I’ve kept the pictures but lost the text.

Here they are, showing the effect of the update. Accuracy of old version:

Old version

Accuracy of new version:

New version

However, I don’t want to talk about what’s missing.

Since I started my aim to learn something new each day, I’ve managed to write something every day. But losing this post was the first time that made me think, “oh damn, is it worth it”. It really annoyed me – perhaps more than it should.

There’s a section in Transformative Entrepreneurs where Jeffrey Harris talks about what makes people successful:

Successful entrepreneurs combine optimism, creativity, passion, courage and perseverance. They have an uncanny ability to keep going when times get tough. They have such excitement about what they are doing, and a need to prove to the rest of the world that their idea has merit and that they don’t quit.

Now, admittedly, losing one post isn’t the biggest set back in the world. It’s nothing compared to the set backs Mr Honda went through before his company became successful:

Like most other countries, Japan was hit badly by the Great Depression of the 1930s. In 1938, Soichiro Honda was still in school, when he started a little workshop, developing the concept of the piston ring.

His plan was to sell the idea to Toyota. He labored night and day, even slept in the workshop, always believing he could perfect his design and produce a worthy product. He was married by now, and pawned his wife’s jewelry for working capital.

Finally, came the day he completed his piston ring and was able to take a working sample to Toyota, only to be told that the rings did not meet their standards! Soichiro went back to school and suffered ridicule when the engineers laughed at his design.

He refused to give up. Rather than focus on his failure, he continued working towards his goal. Then, after two more years of struggle and redesign, he won a contract with Toyota.

By now, the Japanese government was gearing up for war! With the contract in hand, Soichiro Honda needed to build a factory to supply Toyota, but building materials were in short supply. Still he would not quit! He invented a new concrete-making process that enabled him to build the factory.

With the factory now built, he was ready for production, but the factory was bombed twice and steel became unavailable, too. Was this the end of the road for Honda? No!

He started collecting surplus gasoline cans discarded by US fighters – “Gifts from President Truman,” he called them, which became the new raw materials for his rebuilt manufacturing process. Finally, an earthquake destroyed the factory.

After the war, an extreme gasoline shortage forced people to walk or use bicycles. Honda built a tiny engine and attached it to his bicycle. His neighbors wanted one, and although he tried, materials could not be found and he was unable to supply the demand.

Was he ready to give up now? No! Soichiro Honda wrote to 18,000 bicycles shop owners and, in an inspiring letter, asked them to help him revitalize Japan. 5,000 responded and advanced him what little money they could to build his tiny bicycle engines. Unfortunately, the first models were too bulky to work well, so he continued to develop and adapt, until finally, the small engine ‘The Super Cub’ became a reality and was a success. With success in Japan, Honda began exporting his bicycle engines to Europe and America.

His plans were stopped by the whole world going to war and his factory was destroyed by a blooming earthquake. But he didn’t give up. I’m not sure I’m there yet. I think if an earthquake destroyed one of my projects I’d probably call that one a day, but I think this is an incredible lesson to us all.

The thing I’ve learnt today is to be successful you need to carry on even when you fail. Even if you fail ten times and then succeed, you’ve succeeded. Succeeding isn’t not failing, it’s working through all the failures to get to the success at the end.

It’s like that old joke:

“Why do I always find my keys in the last place I look?”

“Because you give up looking when you find them.”

The only way to not fail is to keep trying.

The other thing, of course, is to review your failures. They may be painful, but failure is the only thing you can learn from.

Consequently, I’ve reviewed Jeff’s list of “how to backup” again and looked at my process:

  • Don’t rely on your host or anyone else to back up your important data. Do it yourself. If you aren’t personally responsible for your own backups, they are effectively not happening.
    [I assumed queued posts were backed up. They weren’t]
  • If something really bad happens to your data, how would you recover? What’s the process? What are the hard parts of recovery? I think in the back of my mind I had false confidence about Coding Horror recovery scenarios because I kept thinking of it as mostly text. Of course, the text turned out to be the easiest part. The images, which I had thought of as a “nice to have”, were more essential than I realized and far more difficult to recover. Some argue that we shouldn’t be talking about “backups”, but recovery.
  • It’s worth revisiting your recovery process periodically to make sure it’s still alive, kicking, and fully functional. 

And I’ve got a plan to stop this happening again.

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