A Post A Day Keeps The Procrastination Away

I always say it, right? I’m going to start writing things again! I know it’s a great idea, that it’s beneficial in all kinds of ways, and that it only takes a few minutes (depending on how pedantic I’m feeling). It’s a creative outlet that takes weight off the mind and in doing so shares that weight with others who might have a use for it. Blogging is a thinking person’s hobby.

But inevitably I don’t. Why?

Doesn’t matter. This time it’s for real. “Hah!” you may exclaim, and you may even be right to do so. However I have a comrade in arms now, a little Chrome extension called Blockr which doesn’t let you use the internet until you’ve written X words or made Y code commits for the day. In effect you’re buying internet time by achieving goals you set for yourself. Pretty neat if you ask me. I discovered it via Lifehacker, another neat source of inspiration I’ve been growing increasingly attached to (life is too important not to hack into shape).

Blockr reminds me of the Beeminder concept of TagTime, in which you’re occasionally and unpredictably accosted by a popup box asking what you’re doing right now. Over time, that random self-reporting will form a statistical picture of what you’re likely to be doing at any given time, and thus it can subconsciously (and occasionally actively) drive you to work on ‘the right things’ at the right times.

Well, I’ve decided time and time again that writing some words about what I’m working on (projects, challenges, technologies, general trivia) is a good thing to be doing, so let’s see how it goes. I’m doing so many varied and interesting things these days that I’ll always have something to write about, even if it doesn’t seem terribly exciting at the time. Story-telling is an art, and arts take practice.

So here we go. Wish me luck.

Oh, Hello!

So I’ve been away for a little while. I know, and I feel a little guilty, but hey, that’s what holidays are for. I’m now officially getting back to some degree of work, and to that end have created myself a goal with the pretty cool Beeminder to work for at least 20 hours per week on Piemaster-related stuff. Currently no pledge, but it’ll start going up if I start failing. Wish me luck!

So what am I up to now?

The main coding focus at the moment is Buffex, which I still haven’t written much about, despite promising to do so multiple times. Maybe I should write about it first to hash out the scope of the MVP. In any case, it’s coming along rather well, and I’m currently working on wrangling all the data.

In non-programming news, I’ve been spending a lot of time over the past couple of months cleaning up the garden (it’s been a jungle for years) into a presentable state, and performing some dedicated research into the wonders of aquaponics (see this Practical Aquaponics video for 12 minutes of introduction). I want to write lots about it because I’m kind of obsessed at present, but I’m afraid no one much cares. Once constructions starts in earnest (have to order a few more parts) I’ll get onto it.

I’m also heading back to uni this year and applying for a couple of jobs. One is pretty standard tutoring of relatively simple computing subjects, and the other is a pretty exciting engineering faculty project called MUtopia, for which I may be responsible for developing some kind of stakeholder feedback management system, rather than the actual simulation stuff. Still a cool project to be involved with (if approved), and the role sounds like a great experience (from what little I currently know).

Finally, I’ve had a request pop up to write a few sheets of drum tablature, for which I’ve resurrected the old Taboo! Talk about a blast from the past. Ran into a whole bunch of exceptions since I wasn’t a fantastic programmer back then, but it got me thinking again about my old plans to take Taboo to the web as a JavaScript application. Now that I’m actually using some JS in anger, I may give it a go when/if things cool down for a while.

So that’s me. I’ve been very busy with all kinds of things, but am now getting back to being busy with the right things (from this site’s perspective, anyway).

Holiday Direction

The updates have been fairly sparse recently, but as Christmas (or equivalent) approaches everyone gets pretty busy. Fortunately, a few of the things I’ve been very busy with are Piemaster-related: I’m breaking some new ground with Forgbook and Buffex, and exploring a couple of other potential projects on the side.

Forgbook has received a lot of competition lately, as numerous development teams small and large have release highly polished task management applications, such as AsanaDo.com and Orchestra. Many of these have a strong emphasis placed on collaboration across tasks, but still none offer the ability to arbitrarily break down tasks into subtasks. This seems like a pretty fundamental thing to want to be able to do, and is of course the cornerstone of Forgbook.

However all of these applications do offer very slick user interfaces, and to at least be competitive, I’ve realised that Forgbook requires a modern makeover. As such, I’ve finally taken on learning some JavaScript properly, because against my wishes it has undoubtedly become the modern web’s lingua franca. I’ve been mocking up a few single-page AJAX applications with the very handy Backbone.js library, which drastically simplifies (or at least provides structure to) the MVC design of the user interface. It’s quite reminiscent of my time with Adobe Flex, minus the constant annoyances of Flash, and I’m hoping to write a bit about it once I’m a little more comfortable.

On that note, I’ve been approaching Buffex from a more modern perspective as well. I noticed I haven’t mentioned Buffex in a post before, and indeed the project page has been a rather misleading “Coming soon.” for the past year or so, but you’ll hear a lot more about it soon. Since the minimum viable product (MVP) incarnation of Buffex is relatively simple, I’ve decided to focus my efforts on that for the time being before pressing on with Forgbook (which is looking much slicker than it used to, but has a lot of work to go). I’ll be taking a Backbone approach to Buffex too, to try and have nice, snappy interface and keep everything nice and simple.

That’s more or less where my head is at the moment. Those couple of other ideas I mentioned will get some more attention next year, but I can say that one of them has been born out of my recent fascination with gardening. If there are any gardeners out there, let me know! I’m trying to bring a rather unorthodox approach to it, and would love to discuss it with others. Techies tend not to be very enthusiastic garderners however, which is both a good thing and a bad thing in some sense. Regardless, I know I’m looking forward to it.

Speech Freer: Working Under PHP safe_mode

So I’ve mentioned I’d really like to migrate from WordPress to Drupal, for a number of reasons. One of those reasons was that my WordPress has, over time, become gunked up with errors about write access that I kind of understand but have been unable to resolve. Particularly, the awesome automatic updating of WordPress and its plugins had ceased to work, and every update had to be applied manually, which was never going to happen. I was hoping starting from scratch with Drupal would let me keep everything running smoothly.

However in trying to fix a similar issue with my new Drupal install, I can across a post detailing a solution for How to Get WordPress Working Under PHP safe_mode on NearlyFreeSpeech.net, and believe it or not it works. Thank you, Sarah Pin! It’s a long process written out, but really just SSH and 4 shell commands to change the group of everything to web rather than my account. This allows WordPress scripts to write to the server, and hence allows automatic updates. The name of the site, “I Am Completely Serious“, inspired some confidence that I might just be able to fix this mess, and I’m so happy with the results that I’m definitely reconsidering the value of switching to Drupal.

Now the main drawcard of Drupal is the integrated forum module which, while not as full-featured as say phpBB, is plenty good enough for me to offer simple support, and integrates natively with the Drupal user database. In addition, I like the way Drupal is engineered; it’s a programmer’s CMS. Everything is extremely decoupled and customisable, and although that may not add much to the site itself, I suspect it would be more extensible in the future. WordPress is positively rigid in comparison. Finally, I’d just like to learn Drupal for future use, so what better place to start.

One last thing, you’ll notice the theme of Piemaster.net has changed as well. I was so eager to update everything that I didn’t really consider the consequences. The Mystique theme I was using had been customised a bit, and it turns out that since my last update a while back a bunch of features were removed and moved to “Mystique 3+”, leaving the site a bit of a mess. Reverting to the WordPress default theme Twenty Eleven is quite serviceable for now, however.

So in conclusion, I’m actually pretty happy with WordPress for the minute now that it’s all smooth sailing again. Migrating to Drupal is possible (I’ve more or less done it locally), but inevitably hits a few snags. The menus need to be reconstructed, the themes aren’t very pretty, users will need to re-register (not that there really is any atm), etc. I will get around to it, but maybe not just yet.

Hello Again, World!

Done! Exams are done! University is done! It’s all over! I’m FREE!

Now I can finally get to work. There’s so much to do! I suspect I’ll be a little bit giddy around here for a week or so, since I’ve been looking forward to fixing this place up for some time now. So welcome everyone, and if it looks like a bit of a ghost town, look again in a week. Below is a list of the things I’ve got planned for the next few months:

  • Write some more posts about things!
  • Fix outstanding pim2smsbr bugs (especially the character conversion errors/warnings)
  • Move piemaster.net from WordPress to Drupal, and go nuts with customisation
  • Particularly get a support forum integrated with the site. WordPress kinda sucks at this. The default Drupal forum is a bit ugly, but Drupal is a programmer’s framework. It gets the job done right.
  • Clean up all the site content
  • Release the new version of Forgbook that my team and I developed as a university project (then extend it to the moon)
  • Write up some more detailed information about the other projects I have lined up
  • Actually start on some of those projects!
  • Revisit Jario and clean it up a bit (related to one such unannounced project)
  • Just mess around and experiment with things!

My future is currently undecided. Whatever I choose to do I have a few months off now to play around with proper, focused software development, and after that I will either find my way back to uni to take a Masters of Software Engineering, or take a bit of a break and keep exploring the wonderful world of software.

I kind of want to build a startup out of one of these ideas, just for the experience. I don’t expect to become a millionaire overnight, or even a thousandaire over a year, but developers live to have their work seen and used by others, and for that to happen that work has to be a tight, focused application that solves a problem and solves it well. I know I can do that given enough time, and I can only imagine what the journey will bring with it.

First however I will get out of bed and have a shower, then diagnose which part of my PC exploded (literally) a couple of weeks ago. Thank you all for your support, whether or not it was deliberate, but even just having people view the site definitely keeps me going. There’s so much to do, and I’m going to make it happen. I hope you can get some value out of what is to come. Cheers, and Happy World Toilet Day!

Artemoids now on Softpedia!

Softpedia logoJust dropping by with a quick note that Artemoids is now available on Softpedia!

I was entirely unaware of this until I received an email this morning telling me as much, and honestly I don’t understand why, but hey! If someone enjoyed it enough to bother submitting it, then I’m not complaining! Then again, it’s listed as a game for Mac, so maybe Macs really are that desperate for entertainment once the thrill goes out of making photo albums and home movies.

Anyway, in celebration of being branded Piemaster Studios without my knowledge, I’ve set up a Piemaster Studios Facebook page so you to can show your support for the fastest-growing independent software developer in the last two hours!

Also good to know is that the extensive codebase of Artemoids was “tested in the Softpedia labs using several industry-leading security solutions and found to be completely clean of adware/spyware components”. So there you go – finally a crappy Java game that you can play in your browser without infecting your computer! Badge displayed proudly below:

Softpedia 100% Clean Award

Not So Back

Urgh. I’ve been sick for the past week and a half, descending into a feverous chest infection, and just now starting to improve. Unfortunately a whole pile of work has stacked up, so I’m not going to be nearly as active as I would have liked to be :(. Just letting you know on the off chance you were hanging out for some amazing updates. I’ll be back eventually, but not for a while.

I’m also considering migrating this site to another CMS (Drupal 7 is looking quite suitable), but there’s lots of research and decisions to make before then. Excitement!

Back and Back

You’ll all be glad to hear skiing was a success, and that I’m back behind the wheel. Unfortunately (for this site, at least), I’m also back to another semester of university, so I won’t have nearly as much time to update things as I have in the past month. The silver lining is that I’ll be learning a whole bunch of exciting, new (hopefully) things about software engineering and Web development which will make me more productive (and interesting) in the future.

And yet there’s so much to do and talk about! I’ll keep this post nice and generic, but know that I have a whole bunch of exciting projects just waiting for a chance at development, and come the end of semester I plan on making as many of them happen as possible over the 3+ month holiday. In the meantime, I’ll keep working on Piemaster projects occasionally, and writing about some of the things I’m learning. Who knows, it could even be a good form of revision.

We also just hit the milestone of 1,000 visits! Total. For the whole site. Ever. That may not sound like a very big deal to anyone else, but it’s a nice achievement for me, so I’d like to thank each and every one of you who was responsible for a hit. I’m extremely happy to have been able to help a few different people with a few different things while entertaining myself along the way, and I hope I can keep it up. Now that I have something to work for, there will hopefully be fewer news blackouts. I love you guys!

Piexcerpts Are Here

As you may have noticed if you got as far as reading this post, I recently mashed my fist against the WordPress settings and plugins pages until the site bent to my iron will. It will now display only the excerpts of posts instead of full articles on all pages except those of the individual posts. Hopefully this makes the side more readable, as I have posted and intend to continue posting some pretty long articles.

In case you’re an interested WordPresser, I’m using the Excerpt Editor plugin which not only smartens up the automatic excerpt generator, but also provides a convenient interface for editing past posts, with and without excerpts. It’s got a couple handfuls of features which are nice to have. Consider it recommended. Now please excuse me while I go and create some manual excerpts for old posts so they look a little less rubbish.

So What’s The Plan?

So it’s now well into February, when I’m supposed to have transitioned out of IBM mode and into personal progress mode. To an extent I have, but it’s going entirely undocumented as it always has, despite the whole point of this site being to remedy this situation.

So it’s time to reassess what the objectives of this site are and start using it properly. Why does it exist?

  • To maintain a homepage/repository/portfolio of my various projects.
  • To facilitate posting about development of and updates to those projects, for my own reflection and the interest of any interested parties.
  • To encourage publishing of articles providing information that I’ve picked up through my experiences that may be of use to others.
  • To generally keep track of the progress of various aspects of my life, primarily those relevant to the above points (e.g. what I’m studying/working on/taking an interest in).

These objectives fall approximately into the two categories of content hosting for sharing with others, and reporting developments for posterity and reflection. The former is purely for my own amusement until I start publishing things worth sharing, but the latter can start generating benefits immediately.

As such, I intend to start publishing a lot more short and succinct blog posts about the goings on behind the Piemaster scenes. These will mostly be filed under ‘Personal‘, so feel free to ignore them if you believe that’s where they should stay. I believe Forgbook is going to be of great value for organising my life, but until then the reflection should help focus my attention.

So if you just stumbled across this site for no real reason at all, and you have no idea who I am, and you read this whole post for wont of something better to do… you are possibly the only person on Earth to have done so. Who knows, with odds like that you may even choose to follow the site for the next week or so just to see what happens. It won’t be flashy, but I’m an independent human being and I’ll try to have something even a little enlightening to say. Either way, wish me luck.