Categories
Recommendations Tech

Small Tech

I love the idea of small tech: businesses run my one or two people that can take on some of the big boys of Silicon Valley and win. The idea of people working on only one thing, earning a living from it and delivering a quality product all at once really appeals to me.

Here’s a few small tech things that I’m currently fascinated with:

Sublime Text

Run by one person, maybe two. A text / code editor that is simple, beautiful and does everything you need. Has a free version with a nag, but it’s definitely worth the single payment price.

Reaper

A Digital Audio Workstation. One of the best. Developed by Justin Frankel . Does pretty much everything that the more expensive DAWs like Ableton, Logic Pro, etc can do. Is relatively cheap and you can test it indefinitely if you’re happy to put up with a timed nag screen.

Ardour

Another DAW. See above, although this one works with a variety of payment models to support development: subscription, single payment, timed demo. Alternatively you can download the source code and build it yourself. Plus, it also works on Linux.

Pinboard

Remember delicious? It was the old bookmark storage SaaS. This is what it’s become now. Run by one person who is very active on the social media using their position to make the world a better place. It now runs as a subscription service.

There are others like sqlite (hwaci), tarsnap, zig, oxbridge notes, Overcast podcast player, and there’s a great site exploring this idea as well called small-tech.org.

What I like about all of this is that you can license software as open source / free so people can build it themselves, sell the compiled version or have it subscribed to (although I’m not sure how I feel about that yet) and provide a paid service / boltons, plugins to add functionality.

Categories
Quick Note

Open Source Evangelist

I really like using Open Source tools. I’ve created things using a combination of Blender, Inkscape, GIMP & Krita. All my computers have Libre Office installed on them. I’ve got an Ubuntu build which I use as my backup development platform for things such as WordPress, Drupal & Python / Django.

Open Source helps fuel the internet, education, software development, agriculture, office furniture, architecture, ecology and food.

So it’s important. It’s slowly changing the world. And it’s free.

Free as in libré / freedom / do what you want with it. Means you can do what you like to them. I once made a different theme for Inkscape so it looked more professional when I was using it to show client work.

And sometimes it’s free as in cashmoney free. Which is always a bonus.

There’s a great community built around each one. I’ve made friends for life by being part of the Blender community. We’re spread all over the world and once in a while we meet up and talk about our passions and life and the tool that bought us all together. We trade tips and tricks and war stories and it makes you feel a part of something.

You are being part of the Open Source community just by using the tools, philosophies and talking about it. This is why I’m going to be using WordPress’ standard yearly theme as the theme for this Notebook blog. This is why I mock up 3D concepts in Blender. This is why I use mySQL databases over proprietary databases. This is why there’s free to use stuff on my GitHub. This is why I try and use Godot Engine first when developing games.

Give it a go. It’s liberating.

Categories
Personal Development

Annual re-alignment

Last week it was my birthday. I am now officially, old. But last year was good: I finally ran my first competition race, I became more aware of who I am emotionally and I found employment that suits me and that I enjoy.

Looking to the future I have prioritised 3 things to concentrate on. (until I change my mind again.)

Running

Weirdly, running has become very important to me. I never thought I would ever be a runner. Now I have to go out and run at least 5km 2-3 times a week otherwise I get cranky.

In 2020 I want to run at least one 10km competition. If they’re still having them. And be on my way to running the Bath Half in 2021. If that is a thing as well.

The year started off rough, I caught a cough that left me unable to run for 3 months, but I went for a run this week and I appear to be back to normal again.

I’m not saying it was Coronavirus / COVID-19 because I didn’t have any of the symptoms. Even the cough was the wrong sort of cough.

Analogue Offline Hobby

Since I work in the tech sector, taking time away from this is really important for my perspective. Turns out not everything is about coding, networking and Twitter!

Last autumn I discovered this artist called David Bull who had a YouTube video of the complete process of Japanese Woodcut Printing.

I became fascinated with the mix of art, creativity and technology of the process. I love the association with wood and the slowness of scraping and carving of the block. I love that there is a physical output to the whole process. It reminds me of working at the Bristol Design Forge, but analogue.

So I have been playing around with this a little in what little spare time I have to see what can be done.

Woodcut
The woodcut
The print

It’s early days yet, but there is no rush. This is something that I’d like to explore more and see where it takes me. There’s a sense of peace to it that I appreciate.

Game Development

I’ve always liked board games, table-top role playing games, card games and video games so I am tentatively dipping my foot into that arena.

I’m not doing it right, I’m not doing it well. But I’ve made a start and there are things to see when you go and look at Sparkwood and 21.

I promised my children that I would make them a video game each and so I have been learning how with the wonderful open-source software Godot Engine. Lovely community, great documentation.

I’ve got great ideas for tangible, physical games that are different and unusual. They’re all written down in a list in my notebook and I hack away at them as and when I find the time until they turn in to real things.

If I ever get round to completing them, I’m sure to crow about it here. So watch this space.

Categories
Courses

WordPress Fundamentals 2020

Hello. I have tentatively dipped my foot into the world of online tutoring. I wanted to see if I could create a relatively simple and straightforward course for people to have a quick overview of something I know relatively well.

So I wrote a course about WordPress and what each part of the admin screen does and how you use it.

If you want to take a look a the course it’s on udemy.com and you can get it here:

Categories
Personal Development

Emotional Well-being whilst Remote Working

Remote working is something that is now offered by a lot of tech companies. Organisations such as Automattic (WordPress), BasecampBufferStripe and GitLab are all fully remote companies.

The benefits of working remotely include being more productive, a better work / life balance, and a positive environmental impact. But there are downsides too, especially if you have never worked remotely before.

Feelings of isolation, loneliness and being unable to “switch off” – as well as the lack of social support – are all things you might feel whilst remote working.

Here’s just a couple of ideas that I used to acclimate to remote working.

Set up your space

Make sure you have everything you need near you: laptop, coffee, water, good light, etc. Make sure you’re comfortable sitting for a while and make sure your screen is high enough. Perhaps stick your laptop on a couple of books to help bring the screen up to a more comfortable level. Give yourself a cuddly, action figure, small robot, pet, etc to explain your code to when stuck. It’ll help.

Take breaks

Roughly every 45 minutes stand up, walk about, stretch your arms, your legs and crick your neck like The Rock does before he goes into a high adrenaline action sequence. It moves the blood about and stops you congealing.

Go outside for lunch

Go and look at trees, birds, burning car tyres, whatever your local scenery is like. But GO OUTSIDE AND GET AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER*. For at least 30 minutes. Maybe even eat your lunch outside? Or down the road at that cafe. Just GET AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER. Otherwise you’re likely to go peculiar. 

*Unless you can’t.

Get up in the morning

Actually get up and get ready as if you’re going into work. Don’t just slope into the lounge in your dressing gown and Uggs. It won’t end well. Seriously, get up, make your bed, have breakfast, shower, put on your going-to-work clothes, make a coffee and then sit down and log in. Preferably in that order.

Having that morning routine separates your work day from your not-work day and helps you with switching off at the end of the day.

‘Coming home’ routine 

Have a finishing off routine as well. It will bracket the day and help you with not having that always “switched on” feeling you might get. Switch off your laptop and put it away (even if it’s for 15 minutes and you switch it back on again – it’s the act of doing it that’s important).

The Human Connection

Call your parents to make sure they’re okay. Call you friends. It’s the CALL bit, speaking with other people will help with being on your own all day. Voice or Video. Chat on Slack (when not working / learning) and make sure you’re connected with the group throughout the day.

Final note

And remember, working from home can be a really nice way to work: you have your family, your comforts of home and all the baths you need, just right next to you.

(Duncan McKean is available for parties)

Categories
Recommendations

Podcasts

I’ve fallen into the world of podcasting and listening to radio plays whilst on my way to work or running or even chilling in the evening when everybody else has gone to bed. Some of them are excellent. Here’s the ones that I am currently listening to and can recommend:


The Case of Charles Dexter Ward / The Whisperer in Darkness

An awesome remake of some of HP Lovecraft’s greatest works imagined as a couple of paranormal experts falling into an eerie story that covers missing people, cults, Rendlesham Forest, weird buzzing noises, Government agents, memory loss, paranoia, witchcraft, conspiracy, family affairs, Summarian Gods, dead bodies, not quite dead bodies. The usual.

There’s an excellent monologue part way through where a historian explains and ties together a bunch of disparate things into a massive conspiracy theory reminiscent of the 15 minute monologue in JFK by ‘X’.

website // Apple Podcasts


REWORK: A Podcast by Basecamp

I’m obsessed by all things basecamp. It’s a great project planning app, they have a unique way of working that they write about. A lot. They have this excellent anarchic spirit of doing things their own damn way. A perfect role model for anybody wanting to start, build and run a good organisation.

The podcast just builds on this and has interesting interviews with different folks and how they work.

website // Apple Podcasts


Star Wars Minute

What’s that Duncan? A podcast where two people (plus guests) talk about ALL the Star Wars films one minute at a time? In release order?

Yes. That is correct. And it’s fascinating.

website // Apple podcasts


Blackout

Remi Malik (he of Mr. Robot fame) stars in this small tale of local radio DJ Simon Itani who survives a run-in with a shadowy gunman as a mysterious blackout rocks his isolated community.

It’s really quite tense listening to people slowly falling apart as their world slowly changes from the comfort they once knew.

website // Apple podcasts


Coexistence

It’s a sci-fi story based in a broken earth in a place called Tier City in some weird future where all the resources have gone. A drone pilot receives a package her estranged father that…

…and you’ll have to listen to find out. Really good sound editing. A bunch of interesting characters. Nicely realised world.

website // Apple podcasts


The White Vault

A dark little tale about a repair team that goes to a remote artic outpost and what they find there.

Genuinely creepy horror tale done in the form of a series of findings, recordings and reports. Warning: may contain claws. Black claws. Travel is not advised.

website // Apple podcasts


Welcome to Night Vale

Night Vale is a lovely town in the American Desert where you’d love to live. As long as you didn’t mine the Secret Police and don’t look at the hooded figures in the dog park. And it’s a very safe place to live as long as you know how dangerous librarians are and don’t become an intern to the local radio station there where regular broadcasts keep us updated with the latest news (and weather) from this remarkable and lovely little town.

ALL HAIL THE GLOW CLOUD.

website // Apple Podcasts


Let me know what your favourite podcasts or recommendations are via Twitter.

Categories
Personal Development

Courses Completed 2019 Edition

I’m a great believer in adult education. Learning should not stop once you’ve gone through school. Lifelong learning is a great way to stay current, improve oneself and to increase opportunities in life.

I’ve done a bunch of online courses this year. Quite a lot of them were refreshers to make sure I still remembered how to do stuff (Project Management, HTML, CSS, JavaScript–I’m looking at you!)

Here they are:

DateCourse Duration
MarchSide Hustle: Develop the Skills you need to Succeed3h30
AprilWhat Is Programming?2h50
Godot: Beginner to Advanced4h19
Godot Game Engine — The Complete Course6h00
Intro to Unreal Engine 40h39
HTML, CSS, and JavaScript: The Big Picture1h28
Modern Java: The Big Picture1h58
MayHTML Fundamentals2h20
Beginner’s Guide to Project Management1h40
Fundamentals of Agile Project Management1h30
Play by Play: Visual Studio Live Share0h36
CSS Positioning0h50
Python: The Big Picture1h05
Kanban Fundamentals1h31
Less: Getting Started1h11
JuneGame Character Concept Design Fundamentals1h40
Play by Play: Software Development in Swift – Beyond IOS0h51
Swift Fundamentals3h48
Responsive Websites With Bootstrap 32h53
Play by Play: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript with Lea Verou2h15
Introduction to CSS2h9
JulyJavaScript: Getting Started2h46
JavaScript for Beginners1h30
HTML5 Fundamentals3h47
React: The Big Picture1h11
Vue.js: Big Picture1h06
Angular: The Big Picture1h07
Introduction to Logic Pro X1h39
AugustAlchemy Synth Fundamentals in Logic Pro1h22
Introduction to Ableton Live 92h09
Semantic HTML1h49
Learn JavaScript from Scratch1h06
JavaScript Fundamentals3h00
OctoberJavaScript Objects and Prototypes0h48
Python: Getting Started2h59
DecemberGetting Started with Django CMS1h02
Code School: Try Django0h36

I’m fairly sure I’m going to be doing more courses and it looks like the focus is going to be on Django (because I have this idea of a web app that I want to build for myself), Python (because it can do anything–web, games, scripting for OS software like Blender, Krita, Inkscape, etc…, security, all sorts) and maybe Ruby / Ruby on Rails (because I’m impressed by the work of Basecamp and because the language principles seem to fit how I think).

Categories
Experiment

Exploring AI in novel writing

I found this website called talktotransformer.com that uses AI to write articles based on keywords and the first sentence.

I thought it might be fun to add in the opening sentence of some of the top novels of all time to see what alternative versions might read like. Check it out.

Categories
Quick Note

Welcome to my Notebook

Hello! How are you?

Welcome to my all-new website. I’ve got rid of everything that’s no longer relevant to me any more. There’s a whole collection of old projects that no longer represent what I do and how I feel about things.

I’ve also decided that these pages from my notebook should be of use to people. I’m not the sort of person that can crow about their achievements. There’s no need for me to write posts about that. But I am interested in how things work and what they mean and how systems and processes work. And so I can use this platform to examine that.

Much more interesting.

The Newsletter

I’ve got a Mailchimp newsletter and I’m going to start using that to post out interesting articles and whatnot before they get posted into this notebook. So if you sign up to the newsletter then you get all these articles way before everybody else.

Playlists

I’ve also been collating Spotify playlists since 2013 and I’m going to shortly release them onto this website as creative inspiration. I have had to transfer them across to my musical alter-ego to access them, but I still have them.