Thursday, 19 September 2013

Lacking my muse, daemon, genius today

After the creative joy of a couple of weeks I find myself laboriously grinding through every thought today. I remembered Elizabeth Gilbert's talk below, you might well have seen it, five and a half million times it has been watched.
It also chimes with something I say when I coach someone building their website: 'just do the bit that you can do, you might feel a lot better about it after that.'
And as an exercise in humility I have taken up drawing. I have to grind through the early stages to get to the Gestalt - awful, awful, awful, huh alright. Well I might not even get to the alright but I certainly won't if I don't grind through the awful beginning. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013


 Skipping to the end of the process I have a little more than a metre or so of milestones; these are things I can measure my progress against, take encouragement from.
There are nine in all
  • This is Hebden - website - fun!
  • Selling first insert - can buy more postcards
  • 10 People sign up! yay!
  • A program, takes video combines with GPS; a picture every 100m from Hebden to Stoodley Pike
  • A website to diplay the picture walks
  • An android app in the play store
  • A joint coaching session with at least 3 people
  • A piece of software that comes from ideas developed in coaching
  • Be sustainable - 12 months with no contracting but still eating food.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Towns versus isolated mountains

This is where the brain storming started. Wonky scribbles. Ffion took these notes:

Imagine two geographical scenes: the first has tall mountains, with single shops and entities balancing precariously on the top of each, perhaps not even in shouting distance from the others, and the second contains a pretty valley, where every shop has a next-door neighbour, in close proximity. 
Robert would like these two scenes to represent the difference between the Internet and physical towns (which he would like to make less apparent). On the Internet you go to one website, perhaps an online shop, right at the top of a mountain and then that’s it, maybe you go to another one afterwards, but it’s a separate act, and it’s quite a lot of effort for you. In a town, you discover new things as you are going along, and each shopkeeper might know something about another place in the town that’s nearby and exciting.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

After a loooooong period on a contract (following the Hugh MacLeod sex and cash theory.) It was time to get back to my art.
So to start I got a big roll of paper and some fat felt tip pens and talked and wrote. Ffion was my coach for the process so I didn't have to talk to myself.
I'm well aware that choice of technology shapes ones thoughts; it was interesting to observe how well matched a big roll of paper was to this process rather than say a flip board.
I started at one end with shops on mountains and at the other end of the roll (and turned over) 9 milestones ahead of me.
I have lots of notes, the fogs and mists are clearing.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Brain storm

Spent two days brain stoming. Above are the sacred scrolls produced and here is a mysterious shoe for you to ponder.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Projects: wireless and fibre

'Just dive in and have a go.' I was invited round to dinner the other night, a very nice chorizo risotto, and asked about building both a nice and useful website.
At school we learnt theory and then applied it. In my career not so much, in life not at all. It is more often the case that doing something gives me an understanding. To keep progressing I decide on a project I want to tackle and it is that project which defines my study - I then jump in at the deep end. If you want a great website do it this way, get help by all means but immerse yourself in your project.

Projects come to an end too. A server (called 'spleen' - I have a gift for naming machines) has now been turned off and it marks the end of two projects I've had for quite some time.
Both projects related to connecting our community together electronically, building the information roads and lanes around town. The first was a wireless project called lilyhopping because information was supposed to make small jumps around town to get where it was going. The second was a grander scheme to see if we as a community we could self fund a massive overhaul and have super fast telecommunications coming to houses using fibre optic instead of wires.
Neither project stood the test of time unfortunately but through them I learnt, made friends and have some stories. Give your project a go, better still two or more and do something you don't know how to do or might not succeed; it'll be worth it anyway.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Building the Hannah Nunn website

At the beginning of July I started work with Ffion who won the job of recreating the Hannah Nunn website. I wanted to write a blog post to record that time. Below in the form of a question and answers is a summary of our summer coding a new website. First I get to ask a question of Ffion, once she has answered she gets to ask a question of me.
You can see the website at
Ffion and myself viewing the Hannah Nunn website

Ffion, I asked if you’d like to spend your summer building a website with me; why did you say yes?

Firstly because I really love making websites. Not that I’d ever done a professional project like this before. It’s so satisfying. The challenges and constant requirement for learning new things adds to that feeling a lot in the end. I also pretty much knew there was no way I’d find something to fill all my time with that could be properly fulfilling like this (and earn me a bit (loads) of nice money for clothes). Thirdly, I knew that working with you would be easy and fun and a privilege too. You’re well clever.

Robert, thinking of a question is really hard. Anyway, what was one of your expectations or hopes for the six weeks, and was it fulfilled? Why / why not?

Ffion you know this but to give my answer some context I’ll describe how we know each other. We are friends, I’m your mum’s partner and we spend half the week under the same roof, we are family.
At its earliest I wanted to give you the opportunity to earn the money for the laptop you’d need for university in September. Once I had the idea though the reasons kept coming: maybe you’d gain some lucrative skills that will keep you afloat financially; I’d learn how to teach; I’d spend lots of time with someone I love; I might even find someone I’d want to work with in the future. I also thought a taste of work before three more years of education might give contrast to university life. I was less concerned with you alone producing a finished website, I thought I’d have a lot of work to do myself to have it finished to a professional standard.
I couldn’t have wished for more success. I don’t know about the more philosophical aspects of whether you got an accurate feel for the world of work. When it comes to the practical, everything went really well. I saw you gain in confidence and skill day by day. The finished article was more polished and complete than I’d have dared hope.
I was actually much busier than I’d imaged during the last few months. It was my intention to give more attention to you, despite that this project has worked out fantastically.
Ffion in web development mode

Ffion, there were a number of activities involved in making this website: finding out what the customer wanted, technical coding in css/javascript/html, design, working with other people, planning, organisation. What was fun and what wasn’t, what was hard and what was easy? 

The hardest part was the beginning. I didn’t know what to expect or if I’d be any use to anyone. When we first began I had mind block even trying to get anything to appear on a web page -despite having done so successfully before-, but when I became more comfortable and got into the swing of things, I was having fun and learning quickly.
I remember correcting you when you said in conversation “when Ffion does your website”, thinking that rather I would just be doing little bits to help you code it. I was nicely surprised to actually be pretty independent throughout the six weeks, and although I needed your help with rather a lot of the complicated things for the CMS and in the javascript I enjoyed actually being the one who decided what to do next for the site, then to get it done in some way or another.
One of the most fun things was finding out about CSS transitions, then learning a little bit of javascript to accompany the CSS I had written and actually making them work for the image carousels and so on. I also enjoyed my delicious sandwiches everyday and the fact that Mum was really happy with what I had designed and how it worked. It was fun working as a team with us three and Sarah who took the photographs. The design was focussed around the high quality, beautiful images and wouldn’t have worked or probably even have been thought up without them.
The badge I awarded Ffion for all her programming effort

Robert, did you learn anything new at all during the 6 weeks? Or was there anything you were reminded of that you wouldn’t have been otherwise?

Among the things I enjoy about coding is that there is always something new to learn. I have never used CSS transitions so extensively for a site before, it is only in recent months enough people have had new enough browsers to make it a practical choice.
I also have never used the library that lays out images in a brick pattern before, we struggled together to make that work for the site I remember.
When you asked me a question often the reaction was ‘I don’t know but we can find out.’ There is not a chance I could hold all the information I need for this kind of work purely in my head. The process of research and looking up information is part of the job. I hope watching me solve a problem was instructive, I tried to demonstrate how I work, I hope that will help when you struggle with an awkward bug or novel coding technique.
I do have a great deal of practice and experience but I hoped to convey that even with decades of programming under my belt the process and the stumbling blocks are the same as for you when you are just starting. The thing I know is that problems yield to effort, it feels too hard sometimes but every time eventually a solution is found. I think that is the most important thing about programming. You’re starting out, I’d like to help you learn that perseverance.
Masonry, one of the tools we worked out together

Ffion in this case our customer was your Mum. What qualities would you look for in your next customer and what do you want to build for them?

One of the best things about working with her was that she was able to give us quite specific requirements and guidelines and that she wasn’t afraid to say if she didn’t like something or go a bit crazy if she really did. This allowed us all to work closely and make sure the website suited her and reflected her initial ideas as best it could.
Mum’s work is also very beautiful (good job I think that really otherwise there’d be trouble), and I think that really helped inspire me and make me feel excited to work to create a website that the lamps could fit into.
If I am allowed to be fussy my ideal next customer would be someone who had a similar taste to me in terms of aesthetics, someone that could come to me with some basic ideas rather than absolutely nothing at the beginning of a project (even if they changed their minds completely at any point), and finally someone I would be able to communicate with freely and easily throughout the project to ensure that we were both doing everything we could to make the finished outcome just right.
Hannah Nunn in her real life shop

Robert, would you enjoy working with someone like me who you would have to help and be a guide for on a similar project in the future? Or a completely different one?

Years ago I briefly helped teach programming in a university lab, I enjoyed it then; currently in my own business I help people one to one;  this summer experience combined both programming and working side by side. I would very much like to do this again, it was both demanding and rewarding.
It will be hard to advertise for someone like you that I could help in a similar way, I think I will have to keep an eye out for the right opportunity to come up. Someone keen to learn and who has real motivation I could help.
It could easily be a completely different project, not necessarily a web design. Maybe a mobile phone project, but I would like it to be like the Hannah Nunn website in the sense of it being of real value to a customer rather than an academic exercise.
This exercise has given me food for thought. Though I will help new people, I have so enjoyed our six weeks and I would like to make the effort to continue it. Imagining the future, I’d love to be the one that gives you your third year placement.
That gives me two years to get business to the point where it could support us both. And two years to make mine the most attractive option; I’m sure you’ll have many possibilities open to you.
In the meantime I’ll include you in what I am doing in whatever way possible, hopefully including some paid work here and there. As you develop your interests I hope we can combine them with mine, find some lovely customers, create a great team and make awesome things.
I’d love that opportunity to give you a place perfectly suited to your ambitions and talents; maybe you’d travel? It’s an exciting thought that I might be able to provide the conditions to help you flourish, that would create a lot of meaning for me.
Whether that happens or not I hope work will be more than a means of putting bread on the table. There is a chance that it can be fun and meaningful. Work takes up a lot of our lives and it is not just payment for a skill, I wish you the luck that it fulfills you, from what I have witnessed I think it will.

The web team!

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