GHDR Review 8: A Month of Programming

The third-to-last Groundhog Day Resolution of the year! A recap of what I got done, books I’ve gotten, the numbers from my newbie business experiments, and a few ideas about where it is all going.

Last month, I made a commitment to software, so that’s been my main non-billable project. And I’ve actually been doing it. But first, let’s see what got done. I derived this list from several sources: my various blogs, sent email, and my calendar.

Projects

  • Wrapped a Project
  • Outlining Books Faster
  • 30 Seconds to Anything
  • Cancelled STO
  • Picking Products
  • Podcamp Boston
  • Pencil Review
  • WebApp Programming
  • . Kickoff on 9/11
  • . Progress every two days
  • One Board Meeting
  • One Visit to MakeIt Labs
  • Print on Demand product store research
  • Made some iPad stationery
  • Talked to more translators
  • Started coworking in Salem, MA
  • Recorded a new podcast with Sid
  • Looked into new project management software
  • Updated key software packages

This isn’t a bad list of things to have gotten done. I have been not using my Wunderlist this past month because the main goal is the WebApp, which is going to eventually become my electronic to-do list. The high-level overview is on My WebApp Project Page, which goes into detail about how I’m learning how to code. There are 16 entries, each of them representing an average of 4-8 hours of work, so I’ve been putting in a lot of time to learn how to do basic stuff. But it will pay off in multiple ways.

The WebApp design, for now, is very simple because I am learning how to do basic programming tasks in an unfamiliar enviroment: make a linkpage with a dynamic todo list. I already have a linkpage that has my common work links, shared across all my browsers on all my computers. When I need to do some work, I constantly have this page open because it points to all my cloud services. What better place to put my to-do list?

New Books

I’ve acquired a few new books:

  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson – Much-anticipated novel that is apparently about lots of things that I care about: games, systems, girls who love the scientific method, and weird individualists.

  • The Right Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee – I heard about this at Podcamp Boston 2011 (thank @adjtech). It’s a visual business planning book, which I thought might be more fun than the usual pages of numbers.

  • Business Model Generation by Alexander Osterwalder, Yves Pigneur. Designed by Alan Smith – This was mentioned by Dave Wieneke during one of his Podcamp Boston 2011 presentations. It’s a systematic look at business models in a more visual form. It sounded cool so I ordered it. It’s sort of like a coffee table process book, which is fun to browse through. It also has some decent process in it, if you are in the mood to follow it.

  • Pragmatic Guide to Javascript by Christophe Porteneuve – Javascript is one of those weird languages that looks like good old C++ without any of the type safety features. Getting my head around how things are done in this language is important, and since this book is targeted more at experienced programmers it is short and sweet.

  • jQuery Cookbook by jQuery Community Experts – Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’d rather read up on a lot of common approaches to solving common problems. Or rather, what are regarded as common problems. It’s given me a bit of insight about Javascript and how people think using jQuery.

The Numbers

<

p>They are holding steady from last month.

Product Projected Revenue Actual Revenue Notes
AdSense $70 $120.79 Apparently this was paid in August, but I didn’t see it until now.
ETP pads $400 $1283.66 A big jump! Includes 3 months of payments, though. Next week will drop.
PDF 12-pack Cals $5 0 no orders. May have to do update!!!
PDF A5 7Task ETP $20 $10 one orders
PDF A5 5Task ETP $10 0 no orders
Donation $10 0 no donations
Simple Websites II $100 $0 One signup, stalled.
ETP Pads EU ??? ??? Independent operation
Gun Safety 11×8.5 ??? 0 Stalled on marketing

The surprising thing is the rise in sales for the ETP pads, but this includes a whole extra payment that isn’t usually in my monthly report. There was a significant surge, though, in September. Everything else seems pretty dead, though AdSense might be on the rise. My “estimated” earnings for the end of October are $170. However, I just nuked AdSense off a lot of my pages last week, in preparation for doing some more targeted forms of advertising or sponsorships, so I’m not expecting much there.

This month I dropped a product line (the two pack, which was costing me money) and dropped the price on a single pack from $12.50 to 12.00. Not sure if this will have a psychological effect. Seems like a decent price to me.

I think what I need to do now is create marketing campaigns around the tools, in the form of better documentation and suggested uses.

This Month’s Web Traffic

Month Pages Uniques Notes
June 92K 26K From Mint
July 85K 25K From Mint
Aug 104K 30K From Mint
Sep 114K 34K From Mint

A surge in traffic in September. From where? It roughly corresponds, I think, to increased posting.

Top 10 Searches (according to Mint)

  1. david seah
  2. mackbook decals (#3)
  3. macbook pro decals (#2)
  4. printable ceo
  5. emergent task planner (#6)
  6. macbook pro stickers (#5)
  7. compact calendar
  8. macbook decal (#9)
  9. gantt chart excel template (#8)
  10. desktop size

Not seeing much variation here. It might be more instructive to look at Google Analytics and see the unusual keywords. All of these are around 40 hits apiece:

  • (#22) emergent task planner 2011
  • (#24) virtual pc for centos
  • (#27) flash mmorpg
  • (#31) query cache prunes per day
  • (#32) communication designer
  • (#33) flash time tracker
  • (#34) calendar designs
  • (#36) pure css slideshow
  • (#37) how to build a freelance network

This is telling me that my older content is still being indexed and ranked well enough to be seen on the Internet. That’s kind of interesting, because I haven’t done any SEO at all. What would happen if I had something to optimize for?

Thoughts on Progress

I’ve been feeling pretty good about the progress I’m making learning how to code a web application. There are no online tutorials that cover this in any detail (not that I’ve found, anyway), and building my own understanding from scratch is sharpening my auto-didactic ability. Because I’m documenting every step, I also will have a body of work that I could potentially turn into a more polished introduction to the material. This is something I like to do, but haven’t done much before because I didn’t have a process blog to put all this stuff. Just knowing it’s there makes me feel like it is at least accessible to the handful of people who might find it interesting. That gives me a boost in motivation. Most importantly, it keeps me from getting frustrated with the sheer amount of time it takes to learn something new.

How much time has it taken? Between 60 and 120 hours this month to learn the following:

  • How to organize PHP and Javascript files in WordPress 3.2 under a theme structure so it loads everything in the right order.
  • How to add your own tables to the WordPress database
  • How to pick the correct action hooks to run your custom code at the time of your choosing, with access to the WordPress core functions (such as user authentication and database access)
  • How to initialize jQuery under WordPress
  • How to initiate a jQuery AJAX call back to WordPress and receive a response

This is mind-boggling basic stuff that took me a long time to get through. I can’t imagine how long it would have taken if I was doing it without Google…probably 10x longer! I’m finally at the point where I’m beginning to write my own code:

  • Designing a database structure to represent tasks, actions, and time.
  • Defining and implementing a command protocol for the web app, used to synchronize the client with the database.
  • Implementing protocol communication support, data managers, and synchronous loading support

And I still haven’t actually written any GUI code, other than some very simple test cases. I’m just over the first of three or four hills, so I’m looking to maybe another 40 hours of work minimum. Probably more like 60. But at the end of this journey, I am hoping that I will have the means to express all kinds of productivity concepts digitally to augment the paper-based processes. And as a bonus, I will also have the means to finally connect the ETT Online Flash Prototype to a persistent data store, which will encourage me to take that project back up again. I already have the data interface written into it; it just needs a database to connect to. Before, I didn’t know how to write one. Now, I’m getting REALLY CLOSE.

So the moral of the story is: learning how to make stuff takes a lot of time, but once you’ve put that time away it should be worth while.

Thoughts on Business

I’ve been trying to solve the what makes a business person tick puzzle this month, and a recent dream put me on track to a possible solution. I’d dreamed that I was at some Asian version of SXSW in a trendy part of Asia, where the hip and youthfully fashionable generation was doing a good job of making me feel uncultured, illiterate, and irrelevant just by being there. My dream self got over it, though, after realizing that there was at least some shared DNA regarding a common principle: we all believed in the goodness of community and finding one’s tribe, though we weren’t part of the SAME tribe.

When I woke up, I got to thinking about common principles, and it struck me that business people did one thing that I did not: they believed in numbers. When I look at a pile of numbers, I see a bunch of arithmetic I am not going to enjoy going. To a business person, though, they see a story. Each number represents a dollar lost or gained, invested in a dream, or harnessed to create more dollars. Numbers represent something very concrete to business people and, by extension, to accountants. Numbers are, I think, alive to business people who see them as participants in a grander scheme. What is particularly cool about numbers in business is that they actually keep score just by existing. What is not to love about that?

It sounds like a wonderful game, if you can learn to set up your business plan in that way.

On Making Things

I also had the good fortune this weekend to see wet plate colloidal aluminotype photography in action: 20×24 inch metal plates used in a 150-year old camera weighing over 100 pounds, set up in a yard on a beautiful Saturday morning in northern New Hampshire. The results were amazing, and when I got home I looked up chemical processes and thought about making my own lenses.

After calming down, I reflected on the excitement of making things, and how I have generally not followed through with learning how to do it. I understand how a lot of things work, but the next step of actually making them physically has always been something I’ve been shy about. In general, it requires access to facilities and experts, and I have been very shy about that. I’m thinking that I should apprentice myself to whomever can teach me how to use basic machine tools and stuff to shake me out of this.

The Coming Month

All I’m thinking about this month is making my simple to-do Web Application, and then I’ll see what happens next. I’m also starting to think about writing better materials to share what I’m doing in more interesting ways: better articles, better guides, and better graphics on the website. Make more. Share more. That’s the general gist of what I’m thinking. It seems to be the right path, as there are a lot of life decisions that are coming to a close. I like what I’m doing. I like learning how to do things. I like sharing what I learn.

Surely, if I can learn how to share the best things I’ve learned how to do in the best possible manner, there is a market for that. That’s something I have to believe in, and it will just take some long hours building a simple business structure with every detail beautifully attended to, so the numbers that live inside it spawn numerous and happy offspring :) It’ll be like raising chickens for their eggs!

2011 Groundhog Day Resolution Posts