2018 Breaking and Making

2018 seems to have flown by, but actually a LOT has happened and a lot has been achieved.

Personal and financial

Personally it’s been a mixed year, as they usually are.

There have been a lot of great things: the kids turned two and seven (they’re actually just-turned-seven and very-nearly-three).

Eldest has really settled in year 2 and is thriving at school both academically and socially.

Youngest is now much better able to look after herself. She’s very much nearly sleeping through the night every night, which means our sleep routines are approaching something normal. She’s on her way to being potty trained (which is good) and dropping her nap (which is a mixed blessing). She was a bit terrible-two, but really not all that much and I think she’ll be a super-fun three year old.

So, family-wise, we’re much more settled and solo double-bedtimes are quite routine now which means its easier for at least one of us to go out of an evening! Yay! Can we have our life back now please?!

But it’s not been without difficulty. My wife broke her ankle in April. It was a pretty simple break, but for 6 weeks I had to do EVERYTHING. People would ask if Sally was doing OK, I would half- (and on half-) jokingly say “She’s fine. She gets to sit around all day while I do ALL THE THINGS!”

It sounds funny. Bit it was actually very stressful and it really pushed me to breaking point. I somehow had to manage to keep my work running while doing all the school runs and shopping trips and cooking and cleaning and gardening and carrying anything that needed carrying.

But we did it. We got through, and I know people who have endured MUCH worse. But it did leave me in catchup mode for June/July and then before I knew it we had summer holidays to cover too.

Financially we’re not struggling, but the ankle-break and my subsequent loss of hours did hit us a bit. We’re both working slightly part time to be able to spend time with our kids in the week, and already pay a financial penalty as a result, so the lost time hit us. I feel like this will be a break-even year, which is OK. But next year will need to be better!


I feel like I didn’t actually do a huge amount of proper technical work. I didn’t launch many large, complete website projects. The few I did were quite long-running things so it’s not really felt like much both started and finished within the year.

I did a lot of support and minor updates and smaller, but technically complex changes. Though I’m freelance, I work with a couple of “teams”, and I tend to field the stuff that other people get stuck with, such as:

  • working closely with a hosting company to recover a site that’s been subject to a sophisticated hacking attempt
  • building a Ninja Forms extension to add clever new fields
  • tweaking an off-the-shelf SVG world map to correct country boundaries
  • building proxy APIs to make third-party service integrations more reliable
  • or figuring out other people’s code to build plugins, integrate with APIs and tweak and fix existing sites.

I did do a few smaller, end-to-end website projects, and I was SUPER proud to have done a some of them entirely under my own steam without even help from a designer!

Towards the end of the year I unexpectedly ended up looking into “proper jobs”, but then subsequently found out that a) it’s currently too hard for me to wind down Oikos to a place where I can leave it and b) I need to retain flexibility to support some possible future career moves for my wife, while discharging all the parenting duties that we need to fit into a week.

It DOES feel like change is afoot, it’s just not going to happen immediately and I don’t yet know when it will happen. I was REALLY encouraged that several people were very interested in employing me for permanent developer roles, and its definitely got me working on simplifying the business so I can make that move at some future point if I want to.

HOT TOPICS! GDPR and Gutenberg

It would be remiss of me to neglect the two Hot Topics of the year in my world.

GDPR got in the way in May just as I was Doing All The Things because of the broken ankle. But I focussed hard on doing the Right Thing for GDPR and I have processes, audits, and documents that should all support my data protection efforts. I was thrilled when a large charity declared that I didn’t have to sign their own data processing agreement because my own legal documentation was more than sufficient.

Gutenberg – the new WordPress editor – also finally came along in December after a year of debate and discussion. People have claimed it has been a smooth transition, but for small agencies like me and the people that I work closely with we’ve not let many of our clients loose with the new editor yet, so the pain is yet to come. And from a personal point of view I don’t like the new editor, I don’t get what it’s for, it’s going to need to me to re-tool and re-skill somewhat in order to use it properly on projects, and it feels like a change in the direction of WordPress that doesn’t suit me.

Learning and Playing

I’ve continued to dig into learning Laravel, I’ve been trying to #LearnToLoveJS (JavaScript), I’ve been practicing with Vue.js a lot and have done a little React and Advanced Gutenberg training too.

I also dug in to Test Driven Development, which has been on my radar for a while. A couple of my side projects exist mostly to get to grips with TDD.

Looking back through my GitHub history I kicked off a LOAD of little side project things. I was sure many were from previous years, but it seems that this year I’ve been churning stuff out in my “spare” time.

  • https://yet.fyi – This is the best domain that I own. I built a very simple app for showing Yes/No status pages on URLs like https://hasdaviddavisresigned.yet.fyi/. This project was my first real-world use of TDD though and it was simple enough to get started.
  • https://kownter.com – this was also an excuse to do TDD but at a larger scale. Amongst the difficulties of GDPR I decided to see what it would take to build cookie-less, strong-privacy, simple analytics. The basics of it works, but it has fallen off my radar.
  • https://wptolaravel.com – I finished off the videos and course “platform” for my free course introducing WP developers to the Laravel framework
  • SchoolBot (no link – yet!, but see About SchoolBot) – I’m a school parent now and getting access to information I need on a day to day basis can be tricky, so I made a chatbot that sits on top of a parent information database. It super cool. I should probably do better marketing of it.
  • https://zapthemap.com – While the incredibly successful “Beat the Street” scheme was running in my home town of Swindon, I decided to see if you could make a “virtual” version of it. It was a great chance to tinker with some mobile browser API’s for location and orientation, practice my Vue.js and Laravel, and to re-learn some trigonometry and maths!

It was also really interesting to start a JavaScript channel in the UK WordPress Slack and to find I’m actually more practiced than many with my JavaScript.

Speaking and conferences

I did less speaking this year. My only conference talk submission was rejected, so I attended WordCamp London as a punter this year, which was actually quite nice for a break. I really wanted to get to either WordCamp Manchester or WordCamp Edinburgh, but the autumn was so chock full of work that I couldn’t. I also bought a ticket to the first UK Laravel conference, Laravel Live, in June but failed to make it because I was still picking up the pieces of the broken ankle saga.

I delivered a talk at the WordPress Bristol People meetup on using developer tools in the browser (link), I thought I’d also done this at the Cheltenham WordPress Meetup, but it looks like this was back in 2017.

On the back of this talk I started making a set of screencasts on using developer tools.

I also started recording a series on using the command line/terminal right from the very basics of the first Linux commands.

In general I tried to double down on video as my means of sharing knowledge. It’s great because it doesn’t need as much planning and I don’t need to book travel or accommodation to do it. So in a year where traveling was hard it was great to help people out using this medium and it’s something I hope will continue.

Breadmaking is on the rise

Back in May, at peak-Ankle-Breaking-Crisis, my good friend Chris brought me a small plastic tub of gloop. This gloop was an apparently-several-year-old sourdough starter. He also brought me a loaf of sourdough bread, and a bag of organic rye flour.

Sourdough starter and recipe

This may seem like it was a bit of a crazy time to start regularly making slow-proving bread, but actually, I was stuck at home a lot of the time, and I needed a distraction from things. And so making bread became a thing.

I actually love the rituals of food and drink. I enjoy the morning coffee-making ritual, for example, be it pour-over filter or more complicated espresso-based drinks.

And I’ve always being intrigued by baking – it seems a good combination of ritual, process, science and art.

And I’ve been baking regularly ever since. I did get a bit stuck with loaves getting stuck in the proving baskets – a problem fixed with a dusting of rice flour – and the rise is inconsistent, especially with part-wholemeal loaves. But it’s been great.

Sourdough loaf

We’ve reduced plastic use: flour in paper bags is delivered (from Shipton Mill) in cardboard boxes and the rest of the process is pretty plastic-free.

It’s somewhat better for you – apparently.

And I’ve done some maths and worked out that even with premium flour it’s actually cheaper than buying bread in the supermarket.

So we now have our own tub of gloop that’s been in our house for about 8 months that frequently finds its way into our bread! I’ll happily take questions on how to make sourdough and share what I know with you. Ask me anything!!!

What’s up in 2019?!

So it’s been a great year in many ways. My little family is growing up, and this will continue. Business has been a bit lean because I’ve needed to focus on family. But I’ve kept busy and feel like I’m in a good place to focus on the future.

And that’s what I’ll try to write about next! So look out for the 2019 plans post!