I’m starting a depth year

Judging by the volume of posts I’ve seen on the topic, a lot of people are becoming frustrated by the rate of churn on internet technologies. Not only are new things being introduced all the time, but established technologies are evolving so rapidly, and increasingly introducing breaking changes between versions. I’m certainly feeling it. I’m also noticing diminishing returns in staying on top of all these changes. Particularly since in the work that I do I am mostly working with a few established technologies. Much of the new hotness is only peripherally related to what I am asked to produce. Trying to keep up is time consuming, stressful, and ultimately unnecessary. So I have decided to jump on a two year old trend, and am declaring this a depth year (in my case, it’s a depth school year, since I’m starting it at the same time as my daughter is beginning school.)

What does this mean?

I am going to focus entirely on things that I know will add value to my work. I am not buying any new books, courses, tools. I am not subscribing to any new newsletters, or following any new sites. Instead I’m going to work through the backlog of resources I’ve already accrued. I am going to work to identify the stuff that is core to my work–the stuff I’m called on to do regularly–and just get better at that. At this time, that’s HTML/CSS (and SCSS), JavaScript, WordPress, and Linux server administration. I also think it’s really handy to know your tools, so I’ll be spending time learning how to better use Visual Studio Code, and Python.

That already sounds like too much

When you break it down like that, it sounds like so much. If I only had an hour a day to spend on improving my abilities, and I worked seven days a week, I’d only have one hour a week for each thing. I won’t be working like that; this is just an illustration. And some things won’t require as much focus (HTML, CSS, VS Code) as others (WordPress, Linux). But you can see how things add up. And then on top of learning you have to stack paying work, plus life.

What I’m going to be doing

WordPress has seen significant changes in the past few years. I haven’t done any theme development from scratch since the classic editor was deprecated in favour of Gutenberg. In addition, I’m seeing more interest in working with these comprehensive page builders like Divi and Elementor. I find those tools frustrating and restrictive, but they’re really popular, so I think there’s just something I’m not getting.

My HTML and CSS are very strong, but there’s always newer and better. I haven’t delved much intro grid layout, but it seems like it’s finally time. I also really want to bone up on accessibility. I’ve seen some amazing wizardry in responsive layouts; that’s somewhere I can probably improve.

I have no specific plan for JavaScript yet. I’ve done a bit of Angular, a bit of React. I still believe very strongly that JQuery has a place, even as vanilla JS has started to cover a lot more of the syntactic sugar that made JQuery a near necessity in the first place.

For Linux, I need to be better at bringing up a Ubuntu server ready to serve WordPress. This includes all the extra PHP libraries I tend to forget about, as well as the act of securing the server itself. I would also like to move away from VPS snapshots as my backup method. It feels a bit fragile.

Like JavaScript, I have no real plan for python. I use it for a lot of simple tasks like generating tables and lists, or converting between formats. I started using python mostly by copying/pasting and modifying existing scripts, so I should do a tutorial that takes me from first principles.

I have done a lot of editor and IDE hopping. I have stuck with Visual Studio pretty much since launch, though. I’ve used it more than any other editor save BBEdit, and the now defunct Coda and TextMate. I like it enough, and am confident enough in its longevity, that I think it is time to dig more into being efficient with it.

Where I go from here

None of this is set in stone, of course. If I’m working on something, and it becomes apparent that I need to shift focus, get a new tool, etc., then I’ll make that change. I will be very deliberate about what I add on or let in. Where possible, I’ll share my learnings here. There is also a more personal component to this depth year that I’ll be expanding on elsewhere.

April/May’s reading/watching/playing

As a result of travel, a busy entertaining schedule, and some work stuff, I’m way behind. On everything.

In March and April I watched a number of Marvel films. I’m well into “Phase Two” now, having watched Captain America: Winter Soldier, and Ant-Man. I’ve even dipped a toe into “Phase Three”, with the second Guardians of the Galaxy.

I finished Meditation for Fidgety Sceptics. I recommend it. I got the audio book, and admit I had to relisten to a few passages, but I’d recommend going that way. If you’re already familiar with mindfulness meditation, it’s not going to really teach you anything new. It’s a good primer, though, and the central message is a good one: just start, start again if you mess up, and even a little bit helps.

Dead Space 3 is still happening. It’s too stressful, given that I mostly game just before bed. Instead, I’d get all lazy and play Destiny 2.

Currently reading: Annihilation (on my lovely new Kobo Aura, which replaced my refurbished second-gen Kobo which literally fell apart)
Currently watching: The Good Place

Media plan for 2018, and what I’m reading/watching/playing now

For a wide variety of reasons in 2017, I really neglected my media consumption. Neglected in the “garden gone to seed” way, not in the sense that I didn’t do any. I finished a few books, but ended up doing more comfort rereading than anything else. Similarly the TV was mostly on when cleaning, cooking, etc., so that was mostly reruns. I hardly watched any movies. Music was selected by playlist or algorithm. So for this year I’m actively planning what I’m going to watch, read, and play. Music may be a part of it, but I haven’t figured that out yet. (For what it’s worth, I’m trying some of Spotify’s “Fresh Finds” playlists of artists and genres I’ve never tried before.) For January, here’s what I have teed up:

PC/Console: Night in the Woods
Book: Seveneves
Movie: Guardians of the Galaxy vol 2
Comic: The Star Wars
Mobile Game: Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores and Monument Valley 2

Link dump

Reading: Felicia Day’s autobiography, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). In fact, I’m listening to it. First crack at using my library’s audio book reservation. It’s a fantastic book; very relatable and touching. A story of an interaction with a fan may have made my bus ride home uncomfortably dusty.

Listening to: Chipzel radio on Google Play Music. Making my peace with the upcoming death of Songza.

Playing: Toca Builders on iPhone. Yes, it’s for kids. But it’s really great. On my Mac, I’m playing Last Horizon.