Year In Review - 2021

I haven't met any of the tasks I set myself based on my last year in review. But as life springs up random surprises, you see yourself shifting to a moment in time that you never thought was conceivable.

If someone were to tell me last year that 2021 would be the year I'd find someone and finally settle down, I'd say you've been drinking too much of the finest Rioja.

When such a shift in one's life happens, this takes utmost priority and as a result, my blogging has taken a backseat. After April things have been a little sporadic - a time when the new stage in my life kicked up a notch.

Even though blogging this year hasn't been a priority, it's not a result of a lack of learning. I've just been focusing on learning some new life skills during this new stage in my life as well as keeping on top of new technological advances within a work environment on a daily basis.

2021 In Words/Phrases

Coronavirus, Covid-19, Omicron, Hubspot, Wedding, No Time To Die, Money Heist, Tailwind CSS, Prismic, Gatsby Prismic, Beard, Azure, Back The Gym, Blenheim Light Show, Camping, Abingdon Fireworks, New Family/Friends

My Site

Believe it or not, I have been working on an updated version by completely starting from scratch. This involved updating to the latest Gatsby framework and redoing the front-end. I came across a very good tried and tested CSS framework called Tailwind CSS.

Tailwind is a utility CSS framework that allows for a quick turnaround in building blocks of markup to create bespoke designs based on a library of flexible predefine CSS classes. The main benefits I found so far is that it has a surprisingly minimal footprint when building for production and many sites have pre-developed HTML components you can customise and implement on your site. Only time will tell whether this is the correct approach.

Beard Gains

Growing some facial hair wasn't an outcome to living like a hermit during these Covid times, but a requirement from my wife. My profile picture is due for an update to reflect such a change in appearance. Even I don't recognise myself sometimes.

Statistics

When it comes to site statistics, I tend to lower my expectations so I'm not setting myself up for failure when it comes to checking Google Analytics. I wasn't expecting much from this year's stats due to my lack of contribution, but suffice to say I haven’t faired too badly.

2020/2021 Comparison:

  • Users: +41.09%
  • Page Views: +45.56%
  • New Users: +42.03%
  • Bounce Rate: -3.06%
  • Search Console Total Clicks: +254%
  • Search Console Impressions: +295%
  • Search Console Page Position: -8.3%

I'm both surprised and relieved that existing content is still getting traction resulting in more page views and users. The bounce rate has decreased a further 3.05% over last year. Out of all the statistics listed above, I believe the Google Page Position is the most important and quite disheartened that I've slipped up in this area.

To my surprise, the site search implemented earlier this year using Algolia was getting used by visitors. This was very unexpected as the primary reason why I even added a site search is mainly for my use.

One can only imagine how things could have been if I managed to be more consistent in the number of posts published over the year.

Things To Look Into In 2022

NFT and Crypto

The main thing I want to look into further is the realms of Cryptocurrency and NFT’s. I’ve been following the likes of Dan Petty and Paul Stamatiou on Twitter and has opened my eyes to how things have moved on since I last took a brief look at this space.

Holiday

I haven’t been on a holiday since my trip to the Maldives in 2019 and I’m well overdue on another one - preferably abroad if I feel safe enough to do so and COVID allowing.

Lego Ford Mustang

I purchased a Lego Creator Series Ford Mustang near the end of last year as an early Christmas present to myself and I’m still yet to complete it. I’ve gone as far as building the underlying chassis and suspension. It doesn’t even resemble a car yet. How embarrassing. :-)

On completion, it’ll make a fine centre-piece in my office.

Azure

Ever since I worked on a project at the start of the year where I was dealing with Azure Functions, deployment slots and automation I’ve been more interested in the services Azure has to offer. I’ve always stuck to the hosting related service setup and search indexing. Only ventured very little elsewhere. I’d like to keep researching in this area, especially in cognitive services.

Git On The Command-Line

Even though I’ve been using Git for as long as I’ve been working as a developer, it has always been via a GUI such as TortoiseGit or SourceTree. When it comes to interacting with a Git repo using the command-line, I’m not as experienced as I’d like to be when it comes to the more complex commands. In the past when I have used complex commands without a GUI, it’s been far more straightforward when compared to the comfort of a GUI where I naturally find myself when interacting with a repository.

Twitter Bot

For some reason, I have a huge interest in creating a Twitter bot that will carry out some form of functionality based on the contents of a tweet. At this moment in time, I have no idea what the Twitter bot will do. Once I have thought of an endearing task it can perform, the development will start.

Final Thoughts

If you thought 2021 was bad enough with the continuation of the sequel no one wanted (Covid part 2), we are just days away from entering the year 2022. The year grim events took place from the fictitious film - Soylent Green.

Soylent Green Poster (1973)

Luckily for me, 2021 has been a productive year filled with personal and career-based accomplishments and hoping for this to continue into the new year. But I do feel it's time I pushed myself further.

I’d like to venture more into technologies that don’t form part of my existing day-to-day coding language or framework. This may make for more interesting blog posts. But to do this, I need to focus more over the next year and allocate time for research and writing.

Year In Review - 2020

Well, hasn’t this been an interesting year? I couldn't have described it as eloquently as Helen Rosner, who managed to sum up the thoughts that ran through my mind at the start of the pandemic:

2020 In Words/Phrases

Coronavirus, Covid-19, holiday less, lockdown, DIY, UniFi router, armchair, daily HIIT sessions, home office setup, GatsbyJS, 10th work anniversary, Netlify hosting, WordPress (begrudgingly!), Batman Begins, Failing MacBook Pro, Social Share Image Improvements, Hubspot, work from home, social hermit, ultra-wide curved monitor, smart-home automation, family, new forest, outside Christmas lights, Pixel 5, Azure Web Apps, Azure DevOps, Google Photos disappointment

Holiday - A Paradise Lost

Over the last couple of years, I started a tradition on writing about my one big holiday I like to take each year. This was supposed to be the year where I expanded my Maldives horizons (after visiting Vilamendhoo last year) holidaying on another island - Cocoon Island!

I wanted to go to Cocoon Island to celebrate my 35th year of being on this earth with family. But alas, it was not to be. Covid-19 cast doubt of travel uncertainty throughout the year and I'm hoping (like many others), I'll have the opportunity to travel once again in the coming year.

My Site

This has been the year where I have fully transitioned my site into the Gatsby framework and had an absolute ball in doing so! There is something liberating about having a website that doesn’t rely on the conventional CMS platform and as a bonus, I’m saving around £100 in yearly hosting costs after moving to Netlify for hosting.

I need to pluck up the courage to update the front-end build as it not only looks dated but doesn’t perform very well on the Google Lighthouse score, which is something that should easily be achievable using Gatsby JS. Redeveloping this aspect of my website has always taken a back-seat as writing content will take precedence. Strangely enough, looking back over the year I should have had time to write more especially during the lockdown period, but I found this year to be mentally exhausting.

Statistics

When I look at the stats for this year, it seems like my older posts still seem to get a lot of traction. Maybe the numbers are trying to tell me that my more recent posts aren’t that interesting. In all seriousness, I have had another positive bump but not on the same level as in previous years. I am ok with that.

As I stated in my last year in review post, I accepted that the figures will plateau. I’m surprised I managed to get any increase in stats as I lacked focus when it came to blogging and most importantly talking more about unique technical subjects with depth.

2019/2020 Comparison:

  • Users: +11.45%
  • Page Views: +10.54%
  • New Users: +10.72%
  • Bounce Rate: -0.01%
  • Search Console Total Clicks:  +99%
  • Search Console Impressions: +91%
  • Search Console Page Position: +1.7%

Experiencing The Missed Cinematic Experience of 2005

On the 15th June 2005, a film was released that would forever redefine super-hero cinema - Batman Begins! There are certain films that must be seen on the big screen and for me, Batman Begins was one of them. It was unfortunate I gave it a miss on release as I fell out of love with the film interpretations of Batman after “Batman and Robin” scarred me for life.

I instantly regretted this miss-step when finally watching the film on DVD over a year later. I yearned the day when I’d get an opportunity to see Christopher Nolan’s Batman on the big screen. Fast-forward 15 years from its original release, Covid-19 presented a small silver-lining where a handful of films were re-released to fill the gaping hole in the cinemas' schedule, caused by film studios withholding their new releases.

The screening itself couldn’t have been more perfect. Sitting in the VIP seating area and having the whole auditorium to myself, gave a somewhat immersive and intimate viewing experience.

The MacBook Pro Engineer

My 2015 MacBook Pro's battery has been failing for some time now. So much so it's become a glorified desktop rather than a laptop, as any attempt to disconnect would result in the full loss of power. Being that my laptop is out of warranty and even considered buying a replacement, I plucked up the courage to replace the battery myself. Some may call this madness, but I thought this would be the quickest way to get a new battery in when compared to the estimated time Apple quoted me - 2 weeks. Two weeks is a very long time to be without a laptop.

There is such a wealth of online resources demonstrating how the battery can be replaced via DIY videos on YouTube and iFixit tutorials. I'll admit, it takes guts to rip out an existing battery mainly due to the heavy-duty adhesive. It's a slow and arduous process. After this is done, the rest is plain sailing.

I wish I could say my laptop is fully operational but it’s still a glorified desktop as I am still getting battery health warnings, leading me to think some other component is playing up.

Syndicut

1st July marked my 10th anniversary at Syndicut. I always knew I wanted my 10th anniversary to be marked with something memorable... Covid made it memorable indeed for all the wrong reasons. I would have preferred to celebrate with my workmates on a social outing of some sorts, instead, it was a more low-key affair involving a raised glass of the finest Rioja to another successful 10 years!

At this point, I have to really thank Steve and Nick (the directors of Syndicut) who managed to steer us through the choppy waters of the Covid-19 ripple effect. It’s thanks to them our jobs remained secure and I’m sure my fellow work colleagues would express the same gratitude that we came through the other side! For the first time in my life, I felt the possibility of facing financial insecurity.

If this year has taught me anything, it's not to take one's job and career for granted especially when words such as “furlough” and “unemployment” is so prevalent.

Journey for Self Improvement

Depending on how one looks at it, when living on your lonesome and placed in a lockdown can be a recipe for borderline insanity! You could while away the time watching excessive amounts of TV or playing Scrabble GO (my lockdown game of choice!) with friends and randoms over the world, or utilise this time improving one's self. As they say - Idle hands make for the devil's work.

With so much time on my hands, I became very conscious of ensuring I was being as productive as I could, whether that was doing DIY, learning new a new programming framework/language or forcing myself to exercise more often using resistence-bands with gyms being closed. Seriously, those resistance-bands are worth every penny. I don’t think I’ll ever be going back to the gym.

Home Improvement

When in lockdown, I no longer had an excuse to put off all the DIY and general house jobs I previously been telling myself I'm too busy to complete. The outcome has been very satisfying and in can finally say things are more homely.

My most precious purchase is the new leather armchair which I've placed in the corner of the room along with some plants. It's since become a place where I can read, write and think... I've called it my "thinking space"! :-)

Working from home gave me the extra push to properly kit out a small office space. Thankfully, this is something that was already in motion before the lockdown and had a nice industrial desk (made out of re-purposed Indian mango wood and steel) and a leather chair. Over the months, I kept adding more items to make my work life more comfortable. Currently, I am awaiting some Displates to cover up the bare walls.

I’ve also been delving into some smart-home automation starting with the purchase of some smart plugs leading me wanting more! At some point in the future, I could hook up my smart devices to a Raspberry Pi for additional control through a mini touchscreen. Now that would be very cool!

Google Pixel 5

I didn’t end up getting an iPhone to compliment my iPad purchase from last year. Couldn’t bring myself to do it. Even though I’ve been looking for a replacement for my Pixel 2 for some time, there weren’t any Android phones I deemed a worthy purchase. Last years Pixel 4 didn’t tick the boxes that I’d hope it would and so opted for this years Pixel 5.

The Pixel 5 isn’t what I’d class as the typical flagship. Google has redefined what they class as a “flagship” by not using the most up-to-date components when it comes to the processor and the camera. Strangely enough, the camera hardware hasn’t been updated since the Pixel 2, which is very odd. Nevertheless, I have found the Pixel 5 to be a fine phone. The battery lasts me two days on a single charge and (most importantly!) the camera picture quality cannot be faulted.

Home Network Upgrade

In light of having to work from home, I thought now might be a good time to give the network and little more stability, speed and security. My trusty old Billion 7800DXL router started to wane and found myself having to manually restart it on a daily basis. After failing to find up-to-date firmware to help remedy the issue, I thought it’s best to opt for an upgrade to a prosumer grade router - UniFi Dream Machine.

At some point, I would like to beef up my network setup by getting a network switch cabinet filled with hardware from the UniFi range of products. Even though this would be overkill for my needs, it would be very interesting to setup.

Final Thoughts

I leave 2020 with an immense sense of gratitude where all those I consider close to me are safe and healthy. It’s strange to think over the last year has been something we have all bear witness and experienced together. Covid-19 has changed things - the very fabric of our existence. It squashes a persons ego.

Year In Review - 2019

I am glad to report that this year was a year of new learning. Not just about things from a technical standpoint but from a personal standpoint. I feel I started the year with a single-track mindset. However, as the year progressed I have become open to new ways of thinking and finally accepting that even though certain personal milestones I set for myself may not have been accomplished, I am content on lessons learnt from failure. Failure may suck, but it’s progression! It also gives me something to write about. :-)

2019 in Words/Phrases

Kentico 12 MVC, Umbraco, GatsbyJs, Azure Dev Ops, Maldives, Hiking, Drupal (yes I had to do that along with a bit of PHP), Cloudflare CDN Configuration, Google Lighthouse score, Headless CMS - strategic asset, Prismic, Netlify, Kontent, CaaS (Content-as-a-Service), Automated backups for personal hosting, iPad for improved productivity, A2 Hosting Issues, Writers block, New desk and office, Failing Macbook Pro battery, Considering an iPhone 11, Fondness of Port.

Site Offline and Lessons Learnt

I was welcomed with the first bit of failure in April where my website was taken offline (along with many others) for a lengthy period thanks to my previous hosting provider, A2 Hosting. They had no backups, no disaster recovery and no customer support. Their whole operation is a disaster.

Failure = Lesson learnt.

The only benefit of this experience was that it led me to a chain of events to reassess how I host my site and come to the realisation just how important my online presence is to me. Luckily, I was able to get back up and running by moving hosting provider. Thank god I had a recent enough backup to do this.

Popular Posts of The Year

This year I have written 26 posts (including this one). I've delved into my Google Analytics and picked a handful of gems where I believe in my own small way have made an impact:

I think my crowning glory is Google classing my post about “Switching Branches in TortoiseGit" as a featured snippet. So if anyone searches for something along those search terms, they will see the following as a top post. I don't know how long this will last, but I'll take it!

Google Featured Snippet - Switch Branches In TortoiseGit

Statistics

My site statistics have increased considerably, which has been amazing. However, I have to remain realistic and grounded in what to expect in future comparisons. I think the figures may plateau over the next year.

The stats I post below is based on organic searches and I haven’t actively posted links on my social. Maybe this is something I should get back into doing for further exposure.

2018/2019 Comparison:

  • Users: +50%
  • Page Views: +47%
  • New Users: +48%
  • Bounce Rate: +0.8%
  • Search Console Total Clicks: +251%
  • Search Console Impressions: +280%
  • Search Console Page Position: -15%

Syndicut

I am so close to hitting the all-time milestone for the length of service when compared to any company I’ve worked in previously. In fact, I have already surpassed any previous record three-fold. As of next July, it will be 10 years! Wowsers!

I can see the coming year will be a time to reassess how we approach our technical projects to accommodate new markets, technologies and frameworks. It’s always an exciting time to be a developer at Syndicut, but I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into new challenges ahead!

Greater Emphasis on CaaS (Content-as-a-Service)

Over the last year, I have noticed a shift in how content is managed. Even though I have been busy working away on headless CMS’s at Syndicut over the last few years, it seems to be the year where its properly been given global traction and market awareness. You can just tell by the number of events for both developers and clients.

Through this exposure, clients are becoming technically savvy and questioning how and where their data is housed. Content is a strategic asset that should no longer be siloed, but distributed across multiple mediums, for example:

  • Website
  • Mobile Applications
  • Digital Billboards

The key to a successful Headless CMS integration is not the development of an application, but the content-modelling. Based on what I have seen from other implementations, sufficient content-modelling always seems to be missed. Data-architecture is key to ensure data is scalable across all mediums.

I am also a Kontent (previously known as Kentico Cloud) Certified Developer.

iPad and Now iPhone???

This subject matter truly alarms me.

I’ve been considering getting an iPhone 11 after Google released their dismal spec of the Pixel 4 and on top of that, finding that I am really happy with my iPad Air purchase. This is coming from an Android fan!

I have no regrets in getting an iPad, especially when combined with the a keyboard and Apple Pen. It makes you a productivity powerhouse! We live in a world where finding quality Android tablets with sufficient accessories is difficult to find.

If I can get my head around being locked into the Apple eco-system, I might make the move. Why oh why is Google putting me in such a position. :-S

I guess we’ll have to wait till I write my “Year In Review - 2020” on what I ended up doing.

Coffee Tables and Desk Purchased!

In my last year in review, I jokingly added a footnote stating I needed to get a coffee table set and desk. I can mark a massive tick against these two items for a job well done. In fact, I went a step further with purchasing a desk by converting a part of a room into a small office with the following additions:

  • Ikea desk chair
  • Corner shelves
  • An array of potted plants
  • Laptop stand
  • Very cool desk lamp
  • Nice grey rug with some pleasant subtle abstract patterns

It’s now a perfect place where I can work and write without any distractions. The room still requires some finishing touches - in my case, it’s always the small jobs that take the longest!

I was surprised at how productive I’ve been by finally having a small office setup. Gone are the days where I would be reclined on my sofa in front of the TV working away on my laptop.

Redeveloping My Site

It seems like I can’t go through a year without looking into redeveloping my site. It’s the curse when being exposed to working with new technologies and platforms. I like to ensure I am moving with the times too.

I have been considering ditching Kentico as my content-management platform and opting for the static-generator route, such as Gatsby. Resulting in simplified platform-agnostic hosting, site architecture and with the added benefit of portability. I am in the middle of replicating my site functionality using Gatsby to see if it’s a feasible option.

I will be posting links to my “in progress” site hosted on Netlify in my “Journey To GatsbyJs” Series, where I will be writing about things I’ve learnt trying to replicate my site functionality.

Maldives and Vilamendhoo Island Resort

Writing about my holiday has started to become a bit of a tradition (for those that are worthy of such time and effort!) which seem to start when I went to Bali last year. I find it's a way to pass the time in airports and flights when making the return journey home. So here's another one...

Sun, sea, sand and a beach facing hut with an open roofed bathroom... Yes, I have arrived at the Vilamendhoo Resort tucked away amongst the many other beautiful islands of the Maldives.

I’m not supposed to be here...

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Entrance

If I told you our holiday location and resort was in fact booked by mistake, you’d probably think I was lying. But that’s exactly what happened. Originally, the holiday was supposed to be at the Preskill Resort in Mauritius. I can almost understand the travel agent getting “Mauritius” and “Maldives” mixed up, but how can the resort name “Preskill” get misconstrued with “Vilamendhoo”? Yes, I haven’t quite figured out this conundrum myself. Obviously, the travel agent had other plans and we were both talking on deaf ears. In fact, I have a tendency to fall deaf on hearing two words: “All inclusive”. :-)

It was only upon being emailed the confirmation and itinerary of the holiday, I did not get what I asked for. But being the type of person who is a great believer that there are no mistakes and everything happens for a reason through the twists and turns in the grand journey we call life, I carried out some research on my new destination and was indeed impressed what my I saw.

The Maldives

I’ve seen the Maldives through the visual haze of TV, internet and brochures. - All of which never truly sold the destination to me as I deemed everything always seemed too perfect. I think we all have experienced in the past where promotional pictures look nothing like the real thing. Thus never really planned on ever making a visit any time soon.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Shoreline

This could not be further from the truth.

The Maldives is one of the god given gems that needs to be witnessed in reality. This only becomes apparent when you hop onto the propella powered plane from Male airport as you soar over the infinite blue seas and islands naturally formed in all shapes and sizes. Your eyes are in for a visual treat and will salivate in glee!

The only variable is the accommodation you come to choose and Vilamendhoo did not disappoint.

Getting there

I was flying from the UK which encompassed:

  • Flight from Gatwick to Doha.
  • Connecting flight from Doha to Male International Airport.
  • A Maldivian domestic flight.
  • Small bus ride to the coast.
  • Speed boat ride that has multiple drop-off points to other island resorts depending on the number of people you’re with.

Due to my lack of geographic knowledge and overall preparedness for this trip alone, I was quite naive in comprehending the effort involved. Getting to Vilamendhoo could have been a lot more straight-forward if I opted for a sea plane transfer from Male, something that only came to light after speaking to other holiday-goers. Paying extra for sea plane transfer alone saves you around an hour (excluding waiting time) of additional travel time.

Villa Air Flight

Male airport is the central hub and  for providing various transport to the final leg of your trip depending on where your final destination resides. Trying to find the connecting transport was a little confusing and lacked clarity. But the people there are more than happy to guide and help with queries.

It’s a no thrills airport that lacks free Wi-Fi (a standard staple by todays standards) where you’ll need to make your own entertainment, so make sure you get some films and books downloaded prior to pass the time. Or, you could get your first glimpse of what is in store by sitting outside and watching the sea planes and yachts pass by as they float over the blue sea.

Due to the effort alone to get here, I would recommend you plan on staying in the Maldives for a minimum of 10 days to make it more worthwhile. Next time I plan on staying longer... if my work lets me. ;-)

Greetings - Vilamendhoo Style!

Upon arriving at the dock by speed boat, you hear sounds of a beating drum as you are greeted by one of the representatives and make your short walk onto the island. After some quick form filling and introduction on over a refreshing mocktail at reception, we’re good to head on over to our accommodation.

No Shoes, No News

What I found immediately different at Vilamendhoo compared to the other resorts I’ve stayed at before is their motto: no shoes, no news, which is evident both by the workers and holiday-goers. You can literally walk around the island, enter reception, restaurants in bare feet! All floors surfaces (excluding spa and your hut) have a thick layer of sand. It’s just like walking on a beach everywhere you go! Being the Indian I am, I still walked around with flip-flops as some areas were a little to rough for my sensitive feet.

Accommodation - Beach Villa

Vilamendhoo has varied accommodation based on where you’d like to be situated on the island and most importantly price. There are four options to choose from (ordered by cheapest):

  1. Garden Room
  2. Beach Villa
  3. Jacuzzi Beach Villa
  4. Jacuzzi Water Villa

The Garden Room and Beach Villa offer the same amenities with the main difference being the location as highlighted by the name. If you can afford to pay a little extra definitely go for the Beach Villa, you won’t regret it. How can you afford not to? You basically have a little slice of your own beach front paradise meters away from the sea. I found this to be the most exceptional location if you’re fond of snorkelling.

When I think back to my last years holiday in Bali where to access the beach was a 5-10 minute walk, the Beach Villa’s close proximity is a priceless gift that takes the headache out of a casual swim in the sea. It’s also worth noting at this point, you won’t be hassled by anyone trying to sell you anything whilst you lounge on the beach, which was a regular occurrence in Bali.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Jacuzzi Water Villa

Talking about the Water Villa’s would cause me too much mental anguish as I have seen how truly amazing they are situated in a prime location over the water in the lagoon. The Beach Villa’s might be close to the sea, but the Water Villa’s takes things to the next level with private sundeck and stairs to the sea. Who knows... maybe next time?

I stayed in one of the many Beach Villa’s dotted around the coast of the island. My Beach Villa faced the south side where you will see much boat activity and if you gaze further into the distance you’ll see Dhangethi island (it’s the one with a massive satellite aerial sticking up). The upside of this location is its closeness to the reception, restaurant and bar. However, I would recommend the north side with its calmer waters due to little to no boat activity and its slightly lusher sands (I swear it feels different!).

The villa is clean, simple and very comfortable with its tropical decor, controllable air conditioning and king size bed. At 55 sqm you have a lot of space to move around and at no time do you feel cramped. TV is an important factor wherever I go on holiday for times when I just want to do nothing. Luckily, you are provided with a 32 inch cable TV with access to a wide range of channels. I found myself watching a film every night before bed. Now thats what I call luxury!

One thing you’ll find very different is the bathroom. It’s slightly outdoors, or “open air” as Vilamendhoo like to call it. So you’ll find yourself either looking up at the sky, surrounding trees or the mini garden that forms part of the bathroom during a shower or toilet time. It feels very liberating! You’re literally one with nature as nature calls.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Bathroom Garden

The included shower gels, shampoo and creams are exceptional. I’m an absolute snob when it comes to resort/hotel provided washes as they are just dirt cheap, but I was pleasantly surprised by the naturally derived Healing Earth collection. So feel free to leave your own toiletries behind as (like myself) more than likely will not be using them.

Dining - Food Glorious Food!

If you’re an “all inclusive” customer you will not go hungry. It’s worth every penny - I’ll be talking more about this further down in this post.

The main dining area is the Funama Restaurant housed on the south-side at the centre of the island, making it easily accessible wherever your hut is.

On your first day entering the dining area you will be given a table that will be your assigned seating throughout your stay which I originally thought would be quite restrictive. I was wrong. It’s efficient and you get a sense of familiarity with the staff who serve you. It’s at this point I have to make a shout out to our waiter - Ilham. He provided first class service, gave me a plaster for my cut toe (yes!) and shared his wealth of knowledge of the resort and made recommendations throughout our stay. Miss that guy! He deserves a promotion!

The variety of food on offer is astounding that spans across breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a buffet each day. Every evening the food on offer is based on a theme, such as (to name a few):

  • Maldivian
  • Indian
  • Italian
  • Chinese

If you’re not too keen on an evenings theme, there are still other dishes on offer that might be to your liking. It’s impossible for you not to be content with whats on offer.

The food is outstanding across all meal time with a lot of variety. We were tempted to dine at the Asian Wok, but the quality buffet suited us perfectly. All the chefs really do deserve a lot of gratitude just due to the sheer quality and quantity of the food. The service runs like clockwork. As soon as one dish is all consumed in the buffet area, it’s quickly refilled.

The desserts are pure bite-sized art forms.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Desserts

From looking at a handful of other reviews, some have commented on the ambience of the dining hall and the dim lighting. Ignore the naysayers. I quite like it!

Excursions

Being my first time visiting Vilamendhoo Island and the Maldives, I didn’t actually partake in many excursions for the sole reason of feeling an overwhelming sense of contentment. You are surrounded by serene beauty wherever you look. Judging by the serendipitous chain of events where the stars aligned, going to the Maldives has been a long time in the coming - I just didn’t know it.

The handful of excursions I did get involved in consisted of:

  • Kayaking
  • Tour of Dhangethi Island
  • Spa (can I class this as a excursion?)
  • Sunset Punch Cruise

Kayaking

If you’re not 100% confident in going further out to sea or extreme water sports, kayaking is the way to go. You can take your time and go as far out to sea as you feel able to within the 45 minute session. Vilamendhoo Island is deceivingly small and if (like myself) you decided to kayak your way around the island, this can be done in around 30 minutes with time to spare for a little messing around.

Tour of Dhangethi Island

Dhangethi - Boat HullDhangethi is a is a 20-30 minute boat ride away - the island with a massive phone antenna you can see over the horizon from the south-side of Vilamendhoo.

The island is home to a small population of Maldivians with its primary infrastructure involving fishing, construction, boat building and tourism. Some areas you will have the chance to see for yourself during the guided tour of the island along with the local schools and hospital. For me the highlight was viewing an under construction hull of a ship. An image doesn’t give justice on the sheer scale.

At the time of the tour I wasn’t very impressed with the island visit probably because I was expecting something different, but my opinion has somewhat changed as I look back and adjusted my expectations. It was a fascinating insight looking into the culture of the locals and history.

The only thing I would say is the trip was 30 minutes too long. Myself and others found ourselves lingering near the dock waiting to leave.

I wasn’t too interested in the souvenir shops as there wasn’t anything of interest to me, however I heard the goods were a lot cheaper when compared to the Vilamendhoo’s own shop.

Sunset Punch Cruise

The Sunset Punch Cruise is a late afternoon boat trip that takes you further out to sea and immerse yourself in the tropical sunset with a glass of Vilamendhoo’s “special (non-alcoholic) punch”. You may even encounter some dolphins along the way. It was uncertain to whether we’d actually see any dolphins as the cruise from the previous day had no such encounter so our expectations were kept to a minimum.

I am glad to report that luck was on our side and what we experienced wasn’t just a brief encounter, it was a close encounter of the third kind! Not only did we see shoal of dolphins but they were also swimming up close interweaving around the bow of the ship for quite sometime in all their splendour, to the amazement and awe to all on the cruise. Sometimes I question myself on whether I really did see those dolphins and I wasn’t on some form of hallucinogenic trip from the “special punch”. Thankfully, I can confirm I was of sound mental state as I have photographic evidence such an experience did exist. :-)

Even though the likelihood of seeing the dolphins is little hit or miss, I would still recommend this excursion just to have a chance of seeing these wonderful creatures in a close proximity.

Go All Inclusive!

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Asian Wok Restaurant At Night

If you are able to get an “All Inclusive” package at a good price, just go for it! It’s freedom! You know from a cost perspective you will not have to spend a penny more as long as you stay within the confines of the inclusive package. All in all, it’s a good value as you will also get some excursions free or at a discounted rate.

As humans we have a natural instinct of wanting more and there is always a hint of disappointment when you find some red tape when in this case “All Inclusive” has some limitations. I would list the limitations out but they are so minor it isn’t really worth mentioning.

It would be nice is Asian Wok was part of the inclusive package or offered a few meals, but I can understand why they don’t offer this as it lacks the table capacity unlike Funama Restaurant.

Final Thoughts

Going to the Maldives is what I can only call a proper holiday. You have an excuse to just relax and take life at the pace you wish. You could spend all your days being very active scuba diving, windsurfing and snorkelling through the crystal clear waters. Or just sit back on the sun lounger with a couple drinks to hand letting the days pass by. Generally, when on holiday I find myself feeling the need to explore the local surroundings to make the most of it - not here. While away your days guilt free!

Vilamendhoo is small island of paradise that puts a spell on you from the very first moment you step onto the dock to the sound of the welcoming beat of the drum.

Year In Review - 2018

At the end of 2017, I made a new years resolution: make more of an active effort to blog. Not only within my own website but to also do a little writing elsewhere to try something a little different. Generally, I fail to stick by my resolutions, this year was different and I have to give myself a pat on the back for the number of posts I managed to crank out over the year.

Even though I have blogged for over 11 years, I found setting myself setting a new years resolution to write more has increased my overall confidence in writing as well as enjoyment. I now find myself using writing as a release to organise my thought process, especially when trying to grasp new learning concepts. If what I write helps others, that's a bonus!

I highly recommend everyone to write!

Popular Posts of The Year

This year I have written 24 posts (including this one), ranging from technical and personal entries. I've delved into my Google Analytics and picked a handful of gems where I believe in my own small way have made an impact:

One of the most common crawl message everyone experiences when viewing their Search Console. There isn't an exact science to resolving this issue, so decided to investigate a way to reduce the number of crawl errors by looking into the type of links Google was ignoring and submitting these links into a new sitemap.

PaginationHelper class that renders numbered pagination that can easily be reused across any list of data when called inside a controller.

A nice helper method to easily allow for partial views to be rendered as string outside controller context in .NET Core.

A Powershell script to clear out old IIS logs that can be run manually or on a schedule.

Originally written for Syndicut's Medium channel, I write about my experiences using a headless CMS from past to present - Kentico Cloud. When posted to Medium, I was very happy with the responses from the Kentico community as well as the stats. Since posting, it one of the most active viewed posts on the Syndicut Medium channel.

This year I started learning and developing my first app using React Native. I have much more to write about the subject next year. This post detailed a bug (now rectified in the new version of React Native framework) when an API endpoint returns an empty response.

I've been using Cloudflare's CDN infrastructure to improve load times and security for my website. I developed a C# method that uses Cloudflare's API to clear cache from the CDN at code level.

A completely out of the ordinary post - a post about travel! Writing about my time at Melia Bali is the highlight to any of the posts written this year. I was testing the waters for a different writing style and hoping to produce more in a similar format. Definitely got the creative juices flowing!

Site Refresh

Throughout 11 years of owning and running this site, I have only ever refreshed the look around three times in its lifespan. It's always been a low priority in my eyes and in October I released a new look to my site. It's not going to win any prizes, but it should make my posts easier on the eye with some added flair and professionalism. I've also worked very hard on implementing additional optimisations for SEO purposes.

Guest Writing

I made a conscious choice this year to use other places to write outside the comfort of my own website to do some writing. When writing outside your own personal blog the stakes are higher and makes things a little more challenging as you need to cater your content to a potentially different audience.

Out of the 24 posts I've written this year, 4 of them are what I categorised as "Guest Writing"... I need to come up with a better name.

Currently, I've written a post for C# Corner and the rest on Syndicut's Medium channel. This is an area I wish to grow in. I am actually in the middle of writing a piece (nothing to do with coding and more to do with fiction) for film/entertainment website Den of Geek. What attracted me to write for Den of Geek is not just their content, but their award-winning mental health campaign.

Statistics

When comparing my statistics to date over the year to last year, I have an increase in 25% in page views and users. Bounce rate I still need to work on - currently decreased by 4%. Google Search Console statistics are looking promising - average page position has improved by 5 pages and total clicks increased by 110%.

Syndicut

2018 will mark eight and a half years working at Syndicut and this year like always has been filled with many challenging and exciting projects. If it wasn't for the diverse range of projects, which required me to do some interesting research, I don't think this blog would be filled with the content it has today. It's been a year filled with headless CMS's, consulting, blog writing, e-commerce, Alexa, ASP.NET Core, Kentico 12 and more!

Bring On 2019!

Bring on 2019 and some key areas I wish to focus and grow in...

Public Speaking

If I had to choose one thing I need to do next year, is to present a worthy technical subject for one of .NET Oxford's Lightning Talks. For those who do not know .NET Oxford - it's a great meetup for .NET Developers discussing anything and everything in the Microsoft Development industry.

Every so often, they have lightning talks where developers can present their own subject matter. Even though I am familiar with presenting in front of clients through work, a technical conference is a completely different kettle of fish! After all, what you present needs to be useful to the people in the same industry.

There was something Jon Skeet said in one of the .NET Oxford meetups in October that resonated with me. He said something along the lines of: everyone should do a public talk and take part in sharing knowledge. Now if Jon Skeet says that, who am I to argue!? I just need to have a ponder on the subject I wish to talk about.

Consulting

I would like to do some more consulting work. Syndicut has given me the opportunity to do that, providing our ongoing expertise to help one of our clients in adopting headless CMS (Kentico Cloud) into their current infrastructure. It was a surprise to me how much I've enjoyed consulting and this is an area I wish to continue to grow in addition to what I do best - code!

Continue To Be Social Network Hermit

I found it refreshing not to invest too much time (if any) in getting distracted by other people's lives on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. I will continue the process investing time in my own life and as a result feeling much more productive in doing so.

I do not claim martyr in this area, afterall I am an active Twitter user and this will not change. For me, Twitter houses a collection of ideas from users in an industry I am very passionate about.

Other Bits

I really need a coffee table and desk! It's been a long time coming. Maybe 2019 will be the year I actually get one! :-)


Surinder signing off!

Recovering A Hard Disk Full of Memories - Part 1

Memories are what give life purpose. They allow us to go back to the past, into a time that shall forever be stateless. Most importantly memories are experiences that mould us into the person we are today.

For some reason, when I think about the word memories the first thing that come to mind are pictures... Photos to be exact. I only started thinking how important photos are to me whilst I was having a conversation with my cousin Tajesh. Tajesh popped over this weekend gone by and like always has many fascinating stories to tell. One story in particular got my attention. He told me about an amazing trip he had in Australia many many years ago and how he lost all the photos he had taken after recently damaging his hard drive. On hearing his predicament, I was profoundly moved and imagined how I'd feel if I was in his position.

Even though our brains are wired to remember events and experiences, memories seem to somehow fade away over time and we start forgetting the little detail of images until it forms into a hazy recall. We remember enough to transport us back to a time or a place, but the brain has a strange way of patching together what we once saw. As if they are pieces of a larger puzzle. If your brain is anything like mine where you can only selectively retrieve one piece of the puzzle that is most meaningful, we're missing a vast array of information.

I decided I'd make an attempt to try and recover my cousins lost photos. He handed over his Western Digital Caviar edition hard drive carefully enclosed in an old VHS box, entrusting I'll have it's best interests at heart and keeping whatever memories that maybe locked away safe inside... A damaged hard drive is in some ways like our brains selective recall. The data is stored somewhere but we sometimes have problems accessing them.

I'm no hard disk recovery expert and I am hoping some off the shelf software will help me in getting at least some photos back from his holiday. So what's the game plan?

I'll start with using a piece of software I blogged about back in 2011 - EaseUs. EaseUs provides a line of software ranging from backup to recovery. It helped me then and (fingers crossed) it'll help me now. I'll also need a 3.5 inch disk caddy to allow the hard drive to be connected via USB and start the recovery process.

As it stands, my cousins Western Digital Caviar disk doesn't seem to have any visible damage and there are no noises when run. It just doesn't boot.

Stay tuned for future posts on how I get on.

To be continued...

My Time At Melia Bali Hotel

Family. Family is what comes to mind when I think of my time at Melia Bali. I only happen to come to this conclusion as I checked out on the calm and (strangely) cool evening before having to depart back to the UK.

I don't generally write about my travels (or lack of!). But my time at Melia has energised me to write something and as a result, I scribble away madly trying to make sense of processing my erratic thoughts and feelings during my long flight back. Just so I can write this post.

Melia Bali Coconut On The Beach

I find it ironic I started writing this post about "family", when I happened to visit Bali with people to whom I deem most dear: mum, dad and sister. I feel that family forms centre place to the services they provide.

If you happen to have the privilege of staying at the Melia Bali Hotel for long enough, you'd get a sense of familiarity of the people working there. To some extent I hope I am perhaps familiar to them - The Indian guy with the ridiculously frizzy hair (a result of the climate ;-) ).

These people truly are the back bone of the hotel and make it what it is. Yes, Melia is a pretty place on the surface but it's the people that make it truly shine when compared to the other hotels staggered along the beach shoreline. They are without a doubt amazing at what they do. From the lady who cooks me the most delicious fluffy omelette in the morning down to the lobby personnel who are willing to help with any query or concern.

From the moment I wake up and make my way to the breakfast hall to the moment I enter the lobby at the end of a long day gallivanting, I am greeted with many smiles. You can't help but be infected with a sense of positivity and happiness, something I don't think I've ever come across when holidaying elsewhere.

The lobby statues and wondrous ceiling mural makes for a welcome sight at any time, setting the ambience and standard for the hotel. If you're lucky to be at the lobby during the evening, you'd be greeted by two classically trained balinese dancers dressed from an era of time gone by. As they dance with delicate intricacy to the tune of the rindik, I am reminded of similarities when compared to classical Indian dances - a lost art and cultural heritage slowly eroding with time, making for a visceral experience and something you can't help but appreciate.

Melia Bali Dancers

Melia offers around five restaurants to cater for the guests varying palettes - each with their own theme and cuisines. We found ourselves venturing outside to nearby restaurants as after a few nights as we found the prices a little dear based on the portion sizes of the main meals. Even though the food was very tasty, my western belly expected something more sizeable. When taking into consideration the 21% combined tax and service charge on top of the prices on the menu - not so cheap. There are many fine eateries at the Bali Collection for consideration, just a 5-10 minute walk away.

When there are issues, it is family that are there to support at time of need. We happened to experience some very loud noises from the room above us at an unsightly hour. Spoiling the serenity we become accustomed to. Now this went on for a couple nights. We just happened to make a remark of our problem in passing to one of the workers whilst feasting on the morning breakfast buffet and within a a short period of time this was communicated to the customer service representative who apologised and organised a room change swiftly.

The rooms themselves are all very well maintained, clean and provided nice views from the balcony. Based on our room change, you can expect subtle differences in terms of the what the rooms offer. For example, our first room just had a shower, but the second room had a shower/bath. My only quibble is the shower head position - not a deal breaker. There are generous bathroom amenities, consisting of toothbrush, toothpaste, vanity kit, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, shaving kit and body lotion. All fully restocked daily. The crazy thing is that you get a new toothbrush every day! As much as I like a new toothbrush, I sometimes have to question the environmental impact.

Melia Bali - View from Lobby

Even though our noisy neighbour was no fault of thier own, Melia took us under their wing to ensure our holiday was perfect. We were even given a fruit platter for our troubles. I think what struck a chord with me is before we departed, is that the management seem to know everything about a guests stay to a granular level. The hotel manager hoped we'd comeback again to visit even with the minor inconvenience we experienced.

If I do get another opportunity to visit again, I will consider paying a little extra for "The Level" experience. I have to admit, I was quite envious of all the things I heard about this upgrade when talking to other guests on the beach. I felt like a pauper. I like the idea of having a little more privacy in terms of accomodation and your own space on the beach. More importantly it's adults only. No noisy kids! :-)

Melia Bali - Entrance At Night

I look back at my time at Melia Bali with fond memories that will be permanently etched into my memory. For me, Melia compliments Bali as the wondrous land of Bali compliments Melia.

New Year, New Site!

This site has been longing for an overhaul, both visually and especially behind the scenes. As you most likely have noticed, nothing has changed visually at this point in time - still using the home-cooked "Surinder theme". This should suffice in the meantime as it currently meets my basic requirements:

  • Bootstrapped to look good on various devices
  • Simple
  • Function over form - prioritises content first over "snazzy" design

However, behind the scenes is a different story altogether and this is where I believe matters most. Afterall, half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds. Damning statistics!

The last time I overhauled the site was back in 2014 where I took a more substantial step form to current standards. What has changed since then? I have upgraded to Kentico 10, but this time using ASP.NET Web Forms over MVC.

Using ASP.NET Web Form approach over MVC was very difficult decision for me. Felt like I was taking a backwards step in making my site better. I'm the kind of developer who gets a kick out of nice clean code output. MVC fulfils this requirement. Unfortunately, new development approach for building MVC sites from Kentico 9 onwards will not work under a free license.

The need to use Kentico as a platform was too great, even after toying with the idea of moving to a different platform altogether. I love having the flexibility to customise my website to my hearts content. So I had to the option to either refit my site in Kentico 10 or Kentico Cloud. In the end, I chose Kentico 10. I will be writing in another post why I didn't opt for the latter. I'm still a major advocate of Kentico Cloud and started using it on other projects.

The developers at Kentico weren't lying when they said that Kentico 10 is "better, stronger, faster". It really is! I no longer get the spinning loader for obscene duration of time whilst opening popups in the administration interface or lengthy startup times when the application has to restart.

Upgrading from Kentico 8.0 to 10 alone was a great start. I have taken some additional steps to keep my site clean as possible:

  1. Disable view state on all pages, components and user controls.
  2. Caching static files, such as CSS, JS and images. You can see how I do this at web.config level from this post.
  3. Maximising Kentico's cache dependencies to cache all data.
  4. Took the extra step to export all site contents into a fresh installation of Kentico 10, resulting in a slightly smaller web project and database size.
  5. Restructured pages in the content tree to be more efficient when storing large number of pages under one section.

I basically carried out the recommendations on optimising website performance and then some! My cache statatics have never been so high!

My Kentico 10 Cache Statistics

One slight improvement (been a long time coming) is better open graph support when sharing pages on Facebook and Twitter. Now my links look pretty within a tweet.

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost

As I have been writing the last few blog posts, I've been getting the case of "twitchy feet" during the writing process. I normally get "twitchy feet" when frustrated or annoyed by things in my life that I feel could be done easier. In this case, my site has started to frustrate me and felt that adding new posts became a chore.

Over the 10 years (has it really been this long!?) owning and maintaining this site, it's started to become a bit of the beast from the initial outset. I've jumped from platform to platform based on my needs at the time:

  • Wordpress (2006)
  • BlogEngine (2007 to 2012)
  • Kentico (2012 to present)

I feel at the grand old age of 31, I need a platform that nurtures my writing creativity without having to worry about general maintainance and somewhat restrictive editorial functionality. Ever since I tasted the pure nectar that is Markdown, my writing speed has gone through the roof and love having full control through the simplistic editing interface - Markdown is the furture!

I am a certified Kentico Developer (you may have got that impression from my vast posts on the platform) and specifically chose Kentico CMS because it gave me the full flexibility to build the site how I wanted. As great as the platform is, I've come to the conclusion that this site will never grow to be anything more than one thing: a blog. So I want to down-size like a person getting on in his years and move to a smaller house.

Enter Ghost...

Ghost

The Ghost platform has garnered a lot of traction over the years ever since its concept in 2012. I've been keeping an eye on it over the years and never really gave the platform much thought until I noticed quite a few popular bloggers making the move and experiencing the lightening fast performance. This is possibly down to the blogger hosting their instance on Ghost Pro. Could be wrong. I am planning on going down the Ghost Pro hosting route and get everything setup by the very nice people behind the scenes at Ghost HQ, who will lovingly host and look after my site.

I opened up a dialog on Twitter to Ghost who were very kind in alleviating my initial migration worries:

@sbhomra We can upload images for you, if you send the upload directory in the format Ghost uses, i.e. /content/images/yyyy/mm/image-name
— Ghost (@TryGhost) October 7, 2016

@sbhomra We can help with the redirects if you're coming over to Ghost(Pro). :)
— Ghost (@TryGhost) October 6, 2016

The only thing I will have to get over, which Ghost will not be able to help me with is getting over the mindset that I will not be able to to tinker around with my site to the full extent as I do now. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing and will give me the opportunity to concentrate more on writing quality content. I just hate the thought of restricting myself.

Ghost has put a framework in place that no other platform has done so well - giving power to write content anywhere:

  • Desktop browser
  • Mobile browser
  • Desktop application

Looks like Ghost lives up to its main selling point:

An open source blogging platform which makes writing pleasurable and publishing simple.

What I also love is the SEO optimisation out-of-the-box. God knows how many hours I've spent trying to get my site SEO friendly, not only from an search indexing standpoint, but a social sharing standpoint too with all the open graph tags built-in. No need for extra plugins or development from a code perspective.

Whats Next?

As it currently stands, I am evaluating Ghost through their 14 day trial and need to send an email to their support team before I make a confirmed decision to move. I like what I am seeing to far. Just need to get the time to put a migration process in place to move the 200 posts on this site. Eek!

Ghost is definitely not as scary as I once thought. Cue Ray Parker Jr...

Made The Move To HTTPS!

Early last month, I decided to make the move and finally run my site under a secure certificate. This something I’ve been meaning to do over the last year as it became apparent that Google will soon penalise your search rankings if an SSL is not installed. Quite a few of the developer blogs I follow have already made the transition, so I thought I too should do the same. I was surprised how cheap it was to move to HTTPS. For myself, I pay around £25 a year that consists of a basic Comodo SSL certificate and a dedicated IP. This is purely because my website is hosted on a shared hosting provider. It’ll probably be even more cheaper for those who manage their own hosting.

I highly recommend anyone who still has qualms on making the move to https to read the following post by Scott Helme: Still think you don't need HTTPS?. He brings up some very interesting points and benefits that motivated me to make the move.

The transition to making the move to HTTPS was painless and required no major downtime. But I did have to spend time in ensuring all external requests from my site were secure, for example Disqus, Google Ads and some external JS references. However, something a little more pressing caught my eye and got quite a fright when I logged into Google Webmaster Tools yesterday. Unbeknown to me, ever since my site changed to HTTPS, both my clicks and CTR statistics declined drastically over the month. Take a look at the blue and yellow lines:

Google Webmaster Tools Clicks/CTR Decline

At least this decline has not been reflected in my Google Analytics report. The number of visitors to my site has remained stable and have even noticed a slight increase - I don’t think the increase has anything to do with the SSL certificate. So what caused the rapid decline in Webmaster Tools? It seems like I missed something in my haste. I needed to in fact create a new website inside Webmaster Tools that contained my website URL prefixed with "https://". This is because a "http://www.surinderbhomra.com" is considered a different URL to "https://www.surinderbhomra.com". Makes sense when I think about it. I wrongly presumed that as long as I have the correct 301 redirects in place so all pages on my site is served over HTTPS, there won't be an issue.

HTTP and HTTPS Sites In Google Webmaster Tools

John Mueller wrote a FAQ post on Google+ that covers most of the important things you need to know and how to setup Webmaster Tools correctly on change to HTTPS: https://plus.google.com/+JohnMueller/posts/PY1xCWbeDVC.

I won't lie to you, seeing that green padlock in the web address bar whenever I visit my site gives me a new found sense of euphoria!