What we can learn from… NaNoWriMo

It’s November which means that the internet is a quiet, eary place. Where once there was mindless chatter there is only dedicated silence with the occasional cry of “Another thousand done” or “What IS the collective noun for bee hives”

It’s NaNoWriMo time – National Novel Writing Month – that one month of the year where hungreds of thousands of people sit down to churn out a 50,000 word novel in November.

And a supprising number of people manage it, and here’s why. The philosphy of NaNoWriMo is to just get the words out, get the story told, write, write, write – don’t edit, you can do that later, just keep going. You don’t even need a plot.

Or in other words, stop shilly-shallying and just get on with it

And it’s liberating – my novel just had a few hundred word rant about elbow patches on tweed jackets (why!?) – it felt good. The creative dam was broken and before I knew it, several chapters had flown from my fingertips onto Textpad (oh how I love thee).

And then I got side tracked…

You may have gathered that I have a couple of Web Apps that I would like to sit down and work on but until recently they had only been in my mind, nothing had happened.

My first road block – I felt I should be useing a framework but I was reluctant to sit down and learn the behometh that is Zend but if that’s the framework that work has adopted learning something else may not be productive. And so it went on, round and round in my head, excuse after excuse and nothing got written.

Until last week – my novel lies abandoned, we may never know what Cameron and Jake were building inside that mysterious research centre, or why Alice the coffee girl dispised Gerald so much but they served their purpose, they broke the dam in my mind, the wall between me and just getting on with what I needed to do.

So dear readers, here is my NaNpoWriMo inspired advice, stop thinking, just develop – you can polish later but just start. Once you start you KNOW you wont be able to put it down, you will keep developing, refining, improving but as long as you keep to the matra of just powering though you may actually end up with an application that functions rather than just a slice of pie in the sky.


Gingerbread Men

Sometimes there is only one thing that will do – dunking a gingerbread man in a hot cup of tea.

This recipe is adapted from my mother’s recipe. Like all my cooking it can be open to interpretatin depending on your mood – the last batch I made included Allspice as well as cinnamon and ginger.

Making Gingerbread Men

12oz plain flour
1 level teaspoon bicarb of soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger – I always double this though to 4
4oz Butter – regular, make sure it’s a bit soft
6oz soft brown sugar – this is important, this is what makes it taste good and unlike other gingerbread, change to golden caster for a lighter one, soft dark brown sugar or soft light sugar also give different results – all good.
4 tablespoons golden syrup
1 egg

1. Sift flour, bicarb and ginger together – if you want to add other spices (cinnemon, all spice, nutmeg) do this now too – be creative people. your kitchen should smell of Christmas at this point

Making Gingerbread Men

2. Rub in butter, add sugar

3. Warm the syrup / put hte can in a pan of hot water and add with the egg to make a dough

Making Gingerbread Men

4. Shape! Makes about 20 cookies or one gingerbread house

5. Cook for 10-12 minutes at 190C on greased baking sheets

Making Gingerbread Men

If they end up too hard that’s because they were a tad thin, but these are perfect for eating with a cup of tea!

Why haven’t I written a specification for my own product?

If I started a project at work and leapt straight into the code without a specification and only a vague idea of where it was going, I would think myself crazy – and think those that got me into this situation beyond polite description – so why on earth have I done this to myself on a larger-than-usual personal project?

Do I really think it’s not important enough to spec?! Does it mean that little to me? Ha!

For the past week or so I have been “tickling” at an idea I’ve had – I need something to work on to make me learn Zend Framework as there just wont be time for me to learn it at work (oh that could fill a blog post all of it’s own!) and last night I got frustrated with the whole thing – it was only in the cold light of a meeting at work today where I went off on a 2 or 3 minute rant about doing something without a spec that it hit me, I couldn’t get going on this project because I hadn’t clearly defined my goals.

As the internet of today would say… Face Palm!

Why does writing down what you want help? In the corporate world a specification can be thought of as an agreement between the client and the development team – this is what we say that you said you wanted. It can be signed off against and gone back to after delivery to make sure things happened as everyone expected.

There is no reason why you shouldn’t hold yourself to the same high standard as your clients hold you.

This is why I’ve called a halt to messing about with code in a vague hope it’ll magically shape itself into the half-baked idea I have in my head and I’m pinning myself down (quite a feat I can tell you) to shaping my thoughts and, shock horror, writing not only a technical specification but a requirements document as well.

And you know what? It feels darn good!

You know what they say about girls with red netbooks…

I have finally stopped researching, thinking, qualifying, defining and trying to rationalise my need and longing for a net book and just gone and bought one.

It’s been about an hour now and I love it!

webcam 002I am sitting in Starbucks using their wi-fi (best move they ever made, will certainly make more people use this place) twittering and setting up a thin development environment.

Do I still want a macbook pro? Yes. Do I want to spend £1200 on a gadget that I’ll only use once or twice a week? Nope.

So, details – it’s an Acer Inspire and apparently it has about 7 hours of battery life… will get to that at some point.

It’s also red.

Now I know at this point you would be expecting me to start going on about ram and hardrive space and the processor but the thing is, I don’t care – this is not my main machine, I don’t need to even know what those numbers are – after today when I looked at the labels to see if it was beefy enough for what I needed of course – this is a fluff machine and as such I expect it to just work, to just do it’s thing and let me do mine. So far so good.

The one thing I DO care about on this machine is the keyboard, which thus far is behaving, it’s just ‘clicky’ enough but not so much that the people on the next table want to kill me (c.f. the keyboard I used far into the nights at uni… sorry guys). And I can type on it, just need to get used to the backspace key and I’ll be there.

So what will I be doing on this machine? Why, in fact, did I buy it? It’s red and I wanted it – do I need more of a reason than that?

Well yes, there IS a reason – life as it currently stand is just manic therefore I need to be connected between things so I can keep the admin side of my life running smoothly. In a moment I’ll be working on the props list for the next production before heading off to salsa 🙂

But first… must just check my emails 😉

Noda Summer School – 1

Sitting on a very nice midlands train enrout to Loughborough and the 2009 Noda Summer School.

Ive sighed myself up for a weeks course on stage lighting – a subject I know nothing about other than I WOULD like to know about it! Im thinking that may not be enough. Reading through the list of other people doing this course and the all sound very capable! And male. And old.

Hopefully there will be some under-fifties on the course, should I hope for under-30s?

This is going to be an interesting week with interesting people – a week in uni halls with a bunch of amdram luvvies!

Listening to all Forbidden Broadway to get into a suitable dramatic mood.

When I get there I have to hand in my form stating which of the evening sessions I want to do, Mondays sound intense… Do I have the confidence to try the jazz dance session?

Manic week

Well this week has been one of those weeks – but it seems a lot of weeks in my life are like that.

This begs the question, do I attract drama or am I just a drama queen?

Im managing a project at work that is both intense and important, not dramatic in itself but making sure everyone in is the right place at the right time doing the tasks Ive promised they will be doing at the right time has its moments, luckly the chaps who are actually doing the work needed (as apposed to me who just draws pretty gantt charts) are great. Even so, lots of balls to keep in the air.

(I love it!)

Thursday the parents returned from working up north for three days, pa wasnt feeling too great so went to the doctors who immediectly sent him off to hospital… After several hours of tests and not thinking all sorts of terrible solutions turned out he had appendicitis – still horrid but dealable with. He had the op late Friday and will be home by Saturday evening – phew.

And the third dramatic thing in my life this week? I finally completed on my house and got the keys! Sort of excited but no time to think about that right now, work emails to check, dad to worry about, did I mention my aunt has also been taken to hospital this week? Looks like she will have to have another op on her guts, and now Im sitting on a train off to Loughborough for a week at the Noda Summer School!

Yes, a bit of a manic week but everything is working out ok.

Wonder whats next? 🙂

Come back cable all is forgiven


As those of you who have been on the receiving end of one of my house-buying rants will know, I will (hopefully) soon be moving house. In preparation of this I am processing, filing and packing everything single thing I own – a life times worth of… stuff. It’s both theriputic, nostalgic, dusting and tiring.

Do I keep my boomerang that I bought in a boomerang shop in Kings Cross in Sydney? Yes, I think so. What about my rather nice personalised leather pencil pouch from school that I probiably wont use again as it has cats on it? Not sure… The book of stickers from primary school – bin.

But my biggest pain at the moment? I’ve packed away my computer stuff* apart from the very essentials. I currently have no way to get photos off my camera and onto my computer – all the things that I care about that I’ve packed carefully away are not causing me as much pain as that one small USB cable. The silver teapot I got for my 18th birthday? Been in a box for 3 weeks already and I’m fine without it. My crocket hooks – well I do get fidgety with no work to pick up and do but I’m coping, even my DVDs have been packed for three weeks. But not being able to get at my photos locked in my camera! Agony!

I may have to go box diving….. wish me luck

Box Mountain

* Stuff being the techncial term of course

Hello world!

Hello World!

What a great phrase to start a blog with, it’s welcoming, friendly and just a little bit geeky.

I’m not going to do a long, rambling opening post, I’m just going to dive in – if you want to know about me, who I am and why I blog the following posts should explain it better than a few lofty paragraphs could – besides, when was the last time you read a “I’m going to blog and it’ll be amazing” post without rolling your eyes?

Me me me This is me by the way, if you see me in and around Reading do wave and say hello.