Swap ‘n’ Change

After spending the past week or so having a regularly scheduled blog crisis, I spent most of last night hunched over my laptop (literally, my back is killing me this morning) poking and prodding at the keyboard, trying to come up with something new. I’ve felt for a while that my blog wasn’t accurately representing the content held within. OK, some of it is complete tosh and/or just personal ramblings, but there’s a lot of useful stuff spread over years and years of archives that is impossible to find.

It’s not visual, it’s not massively pretty or revolutionary in its design, but there are the following changes:

  • Lots of text — I’m playing to my strengths here. I’m never going to be one of these bloggers with tons of amazing photography. I can barely take a selfie that doesn’t make me look like my brain is leaking out of my ears.
  • No ads — now that I’m relatively financially stable again, I no longer need the ads to contribute to hosting costs etc. As nice as the extra few quid is, they made my blog load slowly & look messy. Some of my posts will still have e.g. affiliate links in, but that’s always been the case (and I usually remember to point them out)
  • Good content made prominent — I’ve made some of the stuff people are actually searching for easier to find with clear links from either the home page, or the main navigation.
  • Stripped out distractions — I’ve removed sidebars from single posts and pages to put the focus solely on content. This may bite me in the ass and reduce session length, and I may need to add e.g. related posts at the bottom of posts, but we’ll see.

It’s not done. (It’s never done.) There’s still stuff to do:

  • The search box needs re-adding
  • I need to do more testing of responsive versions
  • I need to add object-fit support for IE (or not, if I’m feeling mean ;) )

I also need to work on populating the new snippets section with e.g. useful bits that I use when developing websites, as well as more blog posts with KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM (or something). I have so much experience to share and I really feel like I should get back to my roots with tutorial writing & actually useful blog posts.

Anyway, let me know if you spot any bugs.

Oh, hello February

Alright me duckies, how are we all?

You may notice that things look a bit different. I’ve gone a bit old skool, drawing inspiration from some seriously old layouts of mine. Kudos if you have been around long enough to remember the originals. I’ve not finished faffing with it but it’ll do for now. Or until I get bored. Anyway…

Been so busy plodding along in Jem-World that I’ve not thought to blog. January went by in such a blur, mostly as I hid from reality trying to forget about the massive tax bill. Getting that paid was a weight off my shoulders and I’ve been bumbling along ever since.

Some ongoing small wins though:

Having realised early on in January that I’d put on 20lbs over the past 6 months or so I decided to cut the crap and sort myself out. I immediately cut out all drinking at home except for 1) a pre-arranged wine tasting and 2) sharing a bottle of bubbly on valentine’s day. On top of that I even managed a night out complete with crappy dancing completely sober. This nicely ticks the “drink less” goal for the year (for now). Funny how telling myself to drink less achieved sod all but the minute there’s a reason to give up and I don’t even notice not drinking.

Some tweaks to my mail form site saw my rankings pick up early in January and pushing new content in that direction has seen an increase in premium sales over the past few weeks. I also released a new version of the premium form with some extra protection (CSRF specifically) and switched out the XHTML to HTML5. It’s not paying my mortgage yet, but if I can maintain this I might actually be able to stop working weekends again!

My budgeting is staying mostly on track, having a) cut down on the booze and b) cut down on eating out, takeaways etc of late. Desperately trying to maintain this as we head rapidly towards March.

In less ‘winning’ and more ‘failing’ news:

I’ve completely failed to do any training for my upcoming May marathon, which is going to leave me in a sticky situation if I don’t get my arse into gear. I’ve entered a few races between now and then to FORCE me to run (including a half marathon in just a few weeks!) but if I don’t step up my game, that marathon is going to be a long and painful walk.

My car has got another bloody coolant leak and its MOT has expired, so not only am I not able to get to the cat rescue but I can’t run errands or basically anything that isn’t within a couple of miles of home. This is leaving me feeling VERY penned in right now.

My upstairs plumbing (not a euphemism) has sprung a leak and needs fixing.

Usual life shit really – still, it could be worse. And so I continue to plod along.

On blogging, and how I’m probably doing it wrong

As we rapidly approach the 13th anniversary of me owning jemjabella.co.uk and my 15th year of blogging, I can’t help but think about how blogging (both my own, and on a wider scale) has changed over the years.

15 years ago it wasn’t uncommon for people to write blog posts thousands of words long. Blogs were in effect journals, diaries, a real look into people’s lives. And people read those entries, and replied: tons of comments per entry.

old blog 2005
My blog, as captured by the way back machine, Dec 2005

Slowly, slowly that changed. Blogs became less about the personal and more a collection of quick thoughts, pics, memes, links, quotes – truly the “web log” – and this in turn became tumblr, which is a vast and scary beast I’ve never been able to get to grips with.

Circa April 2006; shame the WBM didn't capture the header image
Circa April 2006; shame the WBM didn’t capture the header image

Those who didn’t adopt tumblr have seen the blogging landscape change in other ways. From paragraph upon paragraph of text (some of us still take this approach, cough cough) to lists and clickbait titles; sparse photography — in part because of bandwidth issues and slow connections — to blogs that feature more pictures in one entry than I feature in a year; “vlogging” seems to have hit a new high; beauty and “lifestyle” (what even is this?) bloggers dominate blog link lists. Comments became “likes”, “shares”, “thumbs up” – a lot less effort and easier to do en masse.

August 2006 (one of my favourite old layouts)
August 2006 (one of my favourite old layouts)

I have always defended my “blogging for myself” position and remained firmly stuck in my ways but it’s no secret that my once vast audience and “e-fame” buggered off ooooh… about 5 years ago when I stopped blogging about interesting things and started blogging about children. I miss the days of variety, controversy, geeking-outtery (I think I just made that word up) and not just blogging about myself and my mental health. I want to start taking more pictures, talking more about the things I like and the places I go, not just how heavy I lifted or how much cake I ate this week.

Layout before this one, 2010
Layout before this one, 2010

Of course… I say this, but it’s likely nothing will change long term: I’ll probably be a bit more enthusiastic with photos for a week or two, wax lyrical about something that sounds vaguely lifestyle-y, but the reality is I’ll always be that boring blogger with the 800 word blog posts and 1 photo every 6 months.

I think I’m ok with that.

What’s your process?

One of the things I am really keen on doing this year is to improve my workflow / development process. I have a very “make it up as I go along” approach to building a website (as demonstrated by my live dev ;)) which I think is fine for personal projects sometimes, but when you’re developing for clients the lack of planning and due process can cause massive headaches. What did the client want on page X, can anyone find the todo list I wrote for page Y, etc. I also find that because I only dabble with version control, there are problems with versions and multiple contributors overwriting things etc.

I have it in my head that I need to do something like this:

  • Plan out requirements with client
  • Set out clear sitemap including what is required from multi-step pages (like basket->checkout->success/fail) … wireframes?
  • Set up project version control
  • Actually commit (pun!) to using version control
  • Make website
  • Have a proper testing/staging process
  • Do proper tests
  • Go live!
  • Post-project review

But what I really need is peer feedback – because otherwise I’m going to to end up making this up as I go along too – there’s no point jumping from a lack of process to a made up process that doesn’t work. So what’s your “process”?

Live Dev: So far…

Despite the fact that you’re all sat watching — refreshing regularly — to monitor the progress of my blog’s live development (you are, right?) I thought I’d give a run down of what’s happened so far, and what’s yet to come…

  • New search bar across the top so you can easily search from anywhere (and follow me on twitter etc ;))
  • New logo, which was originally designed for my pro site, which I’ll be using as my personal ‘brand’ from now on
  • The Projects and WordPress sections are in – although yet to be populated
  • New (unfinished) About page
  • The background kitty is in… poor squished background kitty
  • Everything is responsive — figured it was about time (although tweaks need to be made)

Next on my list to fix…

  • Finish About, Projects and WordPress pages
  • Check & style archives / search page
  • Properly style up drop-down menus
  • Sidebars in general.. they’re a bit meh at the minute
  • Footer
  • Revamp Scripts section (release new version of BellaBook)

After that I need to start populating with content, start linking my pages together properly, related posts plugin etc. I’m thinking about starting a regular(ish) newsletter but I’m not sure what the demand for that would be?

Anyway, there we go. Feel free to share your thoughts so far (and any bugs – although I probably know about them)

the same but different

Eagle-eyed visitors will notice some slight changes here: the addition of a third column, changes to the footer, etc. I’ve converted my theme to run off the genesis framework (mostly for the power of the widgets and templates and all that crap).

In theory it means easier maintenance in the future, and has taken about 4 months to get this far because I only get 10-15 minutes a day to work on the bloomin’ thing (work, babies, house, moan moan moan). Some bits that were broken before (twitter feed) are now working again, but there’s bits that WERE fine but are now broken (no decorational border thing around posts … it’s getting there) Let’s call it a work in progress.

Why are Mummy Blogs so Ugly?

I know, it’s true, I probably announced at one stage that I’d never read ‘proper’ mummy blogs (or blogs written by mums, whichever way you look at it). I also said I’d never talk about poo, and look how that turned out. Here is my confession: I, queen of the hypocrites, am a champion “mom blog” reader. If it’s well written or contains suitably awesome pictures, I will dip in and out for as long as my attention is held.

Except, so many of these blogs are just… ugly. Sure, not everyone can afford to hire an awesome designer like Lilian to sex their blogs up but even if you’re stuck using a free theme, there’s no excuse for these:


I tried to anonymise these – it’s not my intention to ‘out’ anyone in particular

Different size ad’ banners, blocks overlapping columns, seemingly random mixtures of fonts / sizes / colours etc. :(

I considered maybe it was just my long standing bias against ad-supported blogs making me grumpy, but Jamie has advertising spots and hers don’t look like they were vomited onto the page. PhD in Parenting has tons of adverts, well over my comfort zone even, but they’re all evenly sized and organised neatly.

I get that these bloggers are not (generally) web designers and that most have better things to do with their time (like mopping up sick and all the other fun crap that comes with having kids) than moving buttons and banners and content blocks 3 pixels to the left / right / up a touch, just one more tweak … I think I just turned into an awkward client. Ahem.

Perhaps surprisingly, given my previous rants on PPP etc, I get that many of these blogs generate that little bit of extra income per month that enables some parents to be at home with their kids (and for that reason alone I’m tempted to spew viagra links all up my sidebar). I just think that you can achieve a nice looking blog without distracting my eyes with spamerific banners and buttons, and without breaking the bank. At the end of the day, the content is more important than the adverts, and if you think otherwise then you’re seriously missing the point.

Useful (cool) icon finding site

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to find some obscure UK debit card icon, or a certain size of twitter icon (whatever) for work… I have an Icons folder for saving sets that I probably wouldn’t be able to find easily again:

(Like my desktop wallpaper? It’s from vladstudio)

And yet all along, there existed Iconfinder. Either I’m the last person to know about the icon search engine or it’s the world’s worst publicised website (it’s apparently existed since 2007?!) Either way, it’s top of my 2011 cool list.*

* this list is purely imaginary

End of an Era, a New Beginning

Tutorialtastic is closing today. Closing, gone. After 8 years of hardy service to you, the blogger, the developer, the web hobbyist.

Don’t cry, my sweets, for where one door closes another duly opens…

It has taken nearly THREE years to get to this point (albeit delayed due to pregnancy, sickness, babies, life, work, etc). Three years of “keep this? no”, “reword this? yes”, updating links, tweaking text, changing themes, poking PHP. Three years to bring together a mish mash — a collaboration — of two of the best geek-oriented websites in our circle of the blogosphere.

Tutorialtastic meets CodeGrrl. POW! GirlsWhoGeek is born.

Let me know what you think, folks :)

Favourite Layouts in July

After posting about my favourite layouts in June I figured this is something I could keep doing! And so here we are, my favourite layouts this month…

Rainbow Stuff

rainbowstuff.png

Ashley has added a personal touch with her cartoon representations of herself, husband (I think!), and cats.

Skylish

skylish.png

I love the splash navigation detail in this one. It’s different, but without being all “mystery meat” like graphic site navigation of the past.

Kya’s Blog Thing

kyanu.png

Be sure to scroll all the way to the bottom with this one, hehe.

OMG Ninjas in my Layout!

So, here it is, finally all coded up and polished and pretty. My shiny new layout, which is totally awesome and 99% down to Ms Bloody Awesome Lilian. Yes, I have given her new names.

I say 99% because I tweaked the titles and made them not-italic because I have secret feelings of dread when it comes to italic. Of course, I could have been a good client and told Lilian this in advance (instead of saying “yeah, just do whatever”) but I don’t like to make life easy for people.

The new whizzbang layout comes with all the parts ready for me to turn on the tumbleloggyness of Habari + my uber coding (or… well, not, because I’ve broken it at the moment) so look out for that coming soon too. :D

Please tell Lilian how cool she is, because I’ve run out of ways to say it.

ETA: the ninja is in the sidebar on the front page ;)

Favourite Layouts in June

Towards the end of 2009 it seemed like I was seeing the same premade WordPress themes over and over and over again. Bloggers were too bored / busy to create something fresh and new? Who knows. It was pants, though (from a visitor perspective) and didn’t do much to inspire me to make over my own blog. Not that you guys should feel responsible for my state of mind or anything, don’t worry yourself there. :P

So anyway, tada! I have seen a few fab layouts this month. In an attempt to lighten things up after a few dramatastic posts I decided to do some link love! :D Here we go…

Mia Chimera

miachimera.png

Interesting, original artwork? Check! Pretty arty flourishes? Check! Witty quotes and one-liners? Check! Big, easy to find/use navigation? Check! A daft tagline? Check! What’s not to love?

CUPKATE.org

cupkate.png

Score — more original artwork! Cute custom(?) font, original icons in the sidebar too. Plus, Kate’s birthday is in January and everyone knows people born in January are superior to everyone else.

jemjabella

jemjabella.png

OMG OMG OMG! Yes, this is a sneaky self-whoring plug here at the bottom for my NEW LAYOUT that is a huge surprise and mystery *doo doo doo* not least because it’s being created at this very moment by the lovely Lilian who is a genius of all things arty and creative. Coming soon to a jemjabella.co.uk near you… :D