Taking the month off

After I completed the full stake web dev boot camp (see my final project code) I decided to give myself a month off studying software development to explore a few other interests.

I’d always kicked around the idea of doing some electronics, so I had a hunt around for some little starter projects to upskill in the practical basics. Mostly I just wanted to familiarise myself with soldering and various electronic parts.

I came across two jobs which I thought sounded perfect:

  • Hacking a set of AirPods into custom (artisanal) headphones for use with my Oculus Quest.
  • Constructing a multimeter kit (a paint by number style kit)

Both projects ticked all the right boxes for me. They’d let me create something useful, while also learning new skills. All of this I could just chip away at over the month when I had 15 mins free.

My custom-made headphones for the Oculus Quest

Both projects worked a treat. I think the biggest thing I took away from them is that soldering requires practice to get right. Looking at my initial solders vs the last ones I made, it was a clear progression in skill.

One thing that surprised me a bit was how quickly I felt the soldering iron I was using (a cheap $25 iron) was becoming the limiting factor in my progress. Normally when I start a new skill I tend to just work with cheap gear, and it takes some time for my skills to eclipse the constraints of them.

The next project I’m starting on (making my version of this cyberdeck) I’ll be replacing my iron with something with more control. Either this cool little USB powered one or a more full-on soldering station.

Something I’m conscious of with taking on new skills is the perishability of my other skills, particularly software development. As much as these more hands-on projects are super fun, my intention is to keep them as hobbies rather than something that occupies a lot of my attention.

Now that it’s February I’m starting to get going on more development training. I found the web development book camp a therapeutic return to creating things in software, and it’s something I’m wanting to expand on more in 2020.

I haven’t completely settled on exactly what shape that will take this year, but I’m leaning towards learning React on the front end and using WordPress as a backend. I really like the philosophy behind WordPress and the company behind WordPress.com, Automattic. They are really delivering something profoundly important to the web, and that tickles me.

Making a podcast

News flash, I’m working on a podcast. Maybe even more than one.

I’ve always loved podcasts and have been listening to them for as long as I can remember. I’ve been kicking around the idea of creating my own show for years, so when a friend of mine suggested we do one together, I was immediately interested.

We’ve had many ups and downs, using many different mics, locations, software tools etc to get the quality as high as we can reasonably afford without a full-on studio. I’m planning to do a few posts about the process of pulling this all together. It’s been quite a journey and I feel it would be hugely valuable to anyone wanting to kick off an in-person show.

Something that really surprised me was how an in-person show is actually more complicated to get good results than the remote recording most shows seem to do. There seems to be a large amount of good content on creating shows via Skype, which is really useful, but I’m hoping to share what we’ve learned recording face to face.

Topics I’ll cover include:

  • Hardware
  • Software
  • Environment and technique
  • Distribution

If you’re keen to get going and want some good resources now, I’d suggest looking at Jason Snell’s excellent podcasting articles over at Six Colors, Marco Arment’sPodcasting Microphone Mega-Review” and Dan Benjamin’sPodcast Method“.

We’re still not quite there with our show, but we are getting better at it every time we record. Best of all we are having fun doing it, which is really the most important thing.

Keynote countdown timer ⏲

countdown timer keynote deck

I made a thing!

I was helping a friend with a Keynote presentation deck. One of the tricker parts was that it needed an automatic 30 min on-screen timer to tick down. I’m something of a Keynote wizard, but I hadn’t made a timer before, but I happened upon this great tutorial on how to create one. Timers can be useful for all sorts of presentation types, particularly in classrooms and workshop situations. As easy as the process is to create one, it is quite time-consuming. So rather than do it once and be done with it, I thought I may as well share it.

To that end, here’s my Keynote countdown GitHub repo or you can download it direct.

The countdown timer is provided free of charge, so if you like it, do me a favour and share it on your social platform of choice.