fresh starts

Hey there

2021 is getting firmly into its stride. There's a new president in the White House and Covid vaccinations continue. As I wrote on the blog yesterday, it takes more than one change to have a real impact but it's a start.

It's been an interesting/manic couple of weeks since the last letter. I've been using the new blog but, as you may have seen, experienced some spammy MySQL injections.


I'm not a developer, far from it; I'm what you'd call "a hobbyist" at best. Just a guy who mucks around with code from time to time, having an idea then seeing if it's possible and learning how to make it happen. There are massive gaps in my knowledge and in the way I approach things.

I tend to adopt the "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" method, it's not pretty but usually ends up working. In recent years I've had the benefits of building on top of an already (mostly) secure platform in WordPress but this was starting from scratch, making mistakes and figuring out how best to rectify them.

When the injections occurred it would be no exaggeration to say I was mortified, I know it's (sadly) part of the web these days but it felt personal, like someone was trying to ruin what I'd worked so hard for. I had to fight for the blog.

I could have taken the easy way out, admitted I didn't really know what I was doing and returned to WordPress. No. I made it a priority to save what I'd done, what I'd worked hard for. There was no way what was likely just an automated bot set to trawl the web for MySQL vulnerabilities was going to make me give up what I'd spent ages building and refining.

I think I'm there.

I'm looking at the flip side of it now, the "attack" (you can't really call it that but that's how it felt) made me strengthen my code, it really was a case of "learning by doing" - a statement that was always on my /now page and still sits on my /about page.

They say necessity is the mother of invention; in this case it was more like the cousin of panicked reading and hoping for the best.

Here's hoping!

Fresh starts

I said last time that I don't really advocate new year's resolutions but we can still use dates as touchstones. Why wait until the new year to make a change? Why wait until Valentine's Day to show someone how much you love them? Why wait until a birthday to give someone a gift?

As Leo Babuta wrote at Zen Habits:

"...we always have the magic of a fresh start available to us – in any day, any hour, any moment. Every morning is a beautiful fresh start!"

All too often we make a resolution, fail after a short while then that's it. In our own minds we become a failure and that thing we resolved to do gets put aside. Just because we failed once we get into the mindset that the failure is permanent.

How messed up is that?

This is the danger of linking success or failure to specific points in time. These aren't one time goals, they are ongoing processes that can start whenever we want, can start again should we fall off the wagon.

"You try, you fail, you try, you fail, but the only true failure is when you stop trying." - Madame Leota, Haunted Mansion.


With all this in mind I made a point of building a habit to read before going to sleep each night rather than looking at a screen. What better book to start with than Atomic Habits by James Clear.

I didn't realise it at the time but this decision was a perfect example of the first rule of habit forming: make it obvious.

I have the book beside the bed so that I can't miss it - when I get in bed I will read a chapter, a section, or maybe just a couple of pages, just so long as I read something. it's been working nicely so far and I'm already 100 pages in.

It also demonstrates the idea of "habit stacking" - attaching something you want to do to something you already do. Your existing action becomes the cue for the habit you want to build.

Along with "make it obvious" another part of habit formation is "make it easy" - the easier something is to do the more likely we are to do it. This ties in with what I was saying about prioritising the blog over my writing project and work training. Messing about with a bit of code was relatively easy by comparison so it's no surprise that I chose to spend my time there.

It goes further than the habit aspect: "working" on code (the terminology is important) makes it feel like I'm being productive, like I'm tricking myself into believing that I'm doing something worthy, even though there are more important things to be doing.

Although I do get a lot of personal value from doing this - I'm learning, I'm achieving something and that helps with my self esteem - is it the most valuable thing I could be doing with my time? No. But as I have realised I can break things down so as to accommodate them and not feel so guilty.

But I digress.

Making it easy as well as obvious is why I have been able to continue the reading habit. Knowing I can just read as little as a couple of pages but still say I've done it reduces the pressure associated with forming a habit. Many make the mistake of going "all in" - I know I have. Start small and build but don't fret if you revert to small.

Fresh starts.

I'm adopting the same strategy with work training and am starting to make some progress.

I've only really finished the first part of Atomic Habits but there is already a lot of good information presented in a way that is easily consumed. Clear doesn't blind you with science but makes it easy and obvious, you realise it's common sense and that you actually already know this but hadn't made the right connections.

Well worth a read on the evidence so far.

And that's it...

I've waffled on a bit longer than expected so forgive me.

I've wasted far too much time in the last 10 months (and for years if truth be told) so I'm now trying to rectify that. I'm breaking things down, achieving small wins which make me feel better about things and myself. This can only snowball so I'm being positive for once and looking forward to what lies ahead.

Take care and stay safe, Colin.

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