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.

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!