Will VC eat itself

There was a post on TechCrunch a few days ago about the big lie in startups and how you can’t run a startup without lying about a million things. When I really think about all these funded startups it upsets me, mainly because I’ve tried to bootstrap all my endeavours. That does make me sound bitter, and I am if I’m honest about it. If you start a company, get funding and fail you’re still often seen as a winner in people’s eyes where as those that bootstrap a company and fail are just seeing as losers. When did we reach a point where getting VC was the main priority after starting a business? When did we lose sight of actually trying to make money first?

Nginx proxy_pass a folder to WordPress

After a rash of security updates for WordPress, I finally buckled down to move our install of WordPress off to it’s own server. This would be easy if we were running the blog on it’s own domain, but it was actually living under /blog on our main domain for SEO reasons. Running nginx as a reverse proxy to WordPress on a different machine was not an easy task. A lot of guides did not seem to have the information I needed so here are the steps I took to get it working.

Add the proxy_pass definition to your nginx config:

Update your WordPress settings. This is the key to getting your site to work correctly. Leave the WordPress Address as where the site is hosted, but change the Site Address to be where URLs are to be written as linking to

Screenshot 2015-07-27 21.43.38

I also had to add a rewrite to my .htaccess file to remove trailing slashes:


Be warned that the permalinks section will suggest a .htaccess file which has /blog/ as the RewriteBase, but this just sends things into a redirect loop. Leave it as the standard root setting.

Make sure you also check that the canonical tags generated by your theme are correct. You want to be sure that any references on the WordPress Address URL canonicalise to Site Address URLs.

Business Design Principles

Facebook’s Four Business Design Principles is an excellent reference that should be at the core of every business tool.

Help people learn and grow

Balance efficiency and effectiveness

Bring clarity to complexity

Be accurate and predictable

The majority of my time these days is spent writing tools for business as opposed to consumer facing sites and trying to find the balance between ease of use and providing all the elements necessary to complete a task can be very difficult at times. I had not heard of the Goldilocks Principal before but it perfectly summarises this fine balancing act.

With a complex piece of UI, if you don’t simplify it enough, people can’t figure out how to use it. But if you swing too far in the other direction and over-simplify it, you risk dismantling the very value that people are looking to access through the tool.

When immersed in a tool it’s easy to become blind to the experience of actually using it. A good example are the drop down menus on a site I’ve been working on these past few years. Even though we would all use them day to day they were never really given a second thought. It was only after looking into how they were actually performing that it was apparent that they were actually really awful to use. Our own familiarity had caused a massive disconnect between how effective they were to use.

Cutting out fizzy drinks

For as long as I can remember I have been drinking fizzy drinks. My mum and my aunt love to tell the story of them giving me Coke when I was just a baby. I spent most of my teenage years drinking several cans of Coke a day and then most of my adult life drinking diet versions. It wasn’t uncommon for me to drink six or more cans a day. At various times I have tried to cut back, promising myself that I would just have a can at lunch or at dinner, but all too often I would just end up sneaking more in between meals.

Earlier this week though I ran out and decided not to go and buy any more or add it to our shopping for the week. These past few days are the longest I have gone without a fizzy drink in probably the last 15 or more years. I can’t say I feel any affects from doing so, but I wouldn’t expect to feel the benefits, if any, for a couple of weeks at least. While I think there are definite health implications from the sugar in Coke, the jury does seem out on artificially sweetened versions.  It doesn’t take long to come across a million articles saying it’s cancer causing, but then studies say it’s safe. I don’t believe that it has big health implications but by the same token I don’t believe that it can be beneficial if you’re trying to lead a healthy lifestyle.

BEM CSS

All too often I find that CSS quickly becomes a real tangle of clashing styles and names. No matter how hard I try something always ends up breaking the styles of something else. Moving to SASS helped a lot but I find on the flip side I end up with styling that’s overly nested.

I’ve recently come across BEM which is CSS methodology for naming classes. BEM stands for Blocks, Elements, Modifiers. I’ve previously looked into SMACSS but still found things fell apart (probably because I’m doing it wrong). BEM looks a lot simpler and easier to maintain. A simple example would be the following styling for an article.

I’m not going to go into much detail as there are already some great posts out there on the subject. I still feel like CSS itself is a bit of a broken solution, although I can’t articulate why or what would be a better option.

Writing every day

I have always wanted to be a good writer and have always envied those that seem to churn out post after post. Sitting here thinking about it now though, I wonder if they struggled, or still do, with the same problems I am experiencing. Is it sometimes difficult for them to come up with topics and ideas for posts? I remember listening to Scott Adams talk about the early days of Dilbert and how he be stressed about producing a comic strip every day, but now he doesn’t worry and the process comes a lot more naturally.

Like everything, writing is a habit. At first it’s difficult, then with each passing day it gets a bit easier. I really want to try and refrain from writing motivational and productivity based posts as I find those easy to write. But it doesn’t take long for them to become a rehash of the same underlying theme which is “Do more, Work hard, Don’t give up.”. Stepping outside of that comfort zone is the only thing that will make me a better writer overall.

Your education and your children

I have never let my schooling interfere with my education. – Mark Twain

The following section on this “end of term report” from a teacher to their pupil’s parents managed to rile a few people up:

“Thank you for all the letters of complaint this term. We welcome your feedback. We read them all and act upon them. And then, in the case of the ones that are full of hilarious English misspellings and grammatical howlers, we pin them up in the staffroom with the funny bits picked out in highlighter pen. If you have reason to complain, check your work – especially if you’re writing about the standard of education your child is receiving in my classroom.”

A commenter said that just because someone had a bad education themselves does not mean they can’t want one for their children. Now I don’t have children, but I do believe that educating yourself first is one of the best ways to benefit your children. Just because you’re no longer in school, doesn’t mean your education has to stop. Bad spelling or bad maths doesn’t have to follow you around for the rest of your life. And even if you don’t want to learn, most tools will check spelling and grammar for you.

How can I help my own children when they’re stuck on a question or don’t understand how things work, if I don’t understand it or can’t do it myself.

Who designs car parks?

Riddled with tight gaps and high kerbs they are the often the most anti-car friendly places on earth. I am convinced that the people who design car parks must be sadists.

I have yet to see a car park wall that isn’t covered in different colour streaks from all the mis-judged turns. Why not have sloped kerbs so that you don’t scuff your wheels or bodywork if you misjudge the spacing? Why not give a little bit more space instead of tight turns at every opportunity? You wouldn’t pay to stay at a hotel where they punch and kick you at every chance they get before you reach your room. Why is it acceptable for our cars?

I’m a pirate but I’m open to options

Pirating TV shows, music, games and applications is just so ubiquitous these days. Where as once it took some degree of knowledge, now everyone seems to do it. I don’t believe people pirate things because they want to steal but do because there are no reasonable alternatives.

For instance, since getting a Spotify Premium account, I haven’t downloaded any music. I dislike pirating shows as I feel that by doing so I’m not really showing any support for the ones I truly love. I could wait months (or even over a year in some cases) to catch it on Netflix or Amazon Prime but then I miss any ability to join in with the conversations with those that have watched it. I would happily pay for the ability to watch show as soon as they are broadcast, or even a day or two later, seeing as I mostly watch US shows. This is of course a very simplistic view and the politics and logistics around doing something like that are extremely complicated, but I can still dream. At the same time, just shut up and take my money!

Beme Review

Here are some of my thoughts on Casey Neistat‘s new app Beme. Beme is a video sharing service with some quirky features. Firstly you hold your phone to your body to start recording, there’s no preview and you can’t see what you’ve recorded afterwards, you can view other people’s Bemes and once you’ve seen it, it’s gone forever and lastly you can send a photo reaction in response. It’s a nice idea but I think there are a few things that let the concept down.

Sharing

There’s no sharing. If I see something great, I can’t turn to the person next to me and show them what I just saw. It’s gone forever. I can’t share it via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Discovery

I can’t see a person’s body of work to see if they’ll be someone worth following in the future. Is this person into the same things I’m into? Will they be creating great Bemes in the future? Who knows. It’s a crapshoot.

Nostalgia

Being able to look over past posts and photos is what makes some sites like Instagram great. It’s nice to see where people were and where they are now. To relive those great moments from our past. Those great moments you shot on Beme. Gone.

Those things combined are what would keep me from opening Beme in comparison to Instagram/Snapchat/Whatever.  Maybe they’ll find ways to be successful in spite of those things. If there’s one thing the past has taught me about technology companies, is that you can’t write anything off. Sometimes the weirdest ideas just turn out to be some of the most successful.