2023 Wrap Up

I didn’t think I’d get around to this year’s review, in all honesty (me being me) I didn’t really think I’d achieved much but when I jotted a few things down I did in fact make some progress (good old chimp brain/imposter syndrome). We can pretty much split the year in two halves one “without” diabetes and one with. The second half after diagnosis has been pretty challenging and has undoubtedly had a huge impact on both my life and also my ability to concentrate work and business. You’ll find an in depth post about “My Diabetes Story” over here. I feel like things are slowly getting back on track and I’m getting my old brain and body back (the one that actually half works) so hopefully 2024 will be a better year. So what was 2023 like work wise?

In that regard 2023 has been pretty quiet especially for new enquiries but then again I think this industry has massively changed over recent years so it’s more a case of trying to pivot away from “old school” client work and trying to find a niche. I’d really love to get into helping small businesses improve their business systems/moving away from clunky processes which rely on Excel.

Office #

Back in February we finally took the plunge and moved from being fully remote back into the world of a physical shared office space. This was easily one of the best things we have done. Having a clear separation from work and home has really helped with my mental health. Add the short walks to and from the office, getting out of the house and being part of a small community is really beneficial. It’s also improved collaboration and to feel part of a team again - for me being in an office is really beneficial.


Static Sites #

I’ve actually crafted more static sites than I have WordPress sites this year though I really like the last one we produced https://morganelliot.co.uk/ a really modern/clean custom theme. There were two static sites of notes. The first being a site that relied heavily on Greensock for scroll triggered animations and a really complex gallery section that animates horizontally with a lot of custom vanilla Javascript to power the galleries. This was easily the biggest frontend challenge of my career but I’m really chuffed with the results. Second was my first static site built with WordPress. Initially we were going to go with using Strattic however on review we opted for wp2static plugin. This seemed to do exactly what we wanted fairly easily with deployment to an s3 bucket and search power by Algolia. It certainly feels like a nice solution to move forward with and I really enjoy the freedom that comes with working with plain old HTML, CSS and Javascript.

Our main Laravel client #

The site is now pretty mature in terms of functionality and seems to work really nicely in terms of user feedback and sales. A huge chunk is now legacy code some being six years old and if I had to rewrite things I’m sure I’d do a lot of things differently but… if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

I’m now working on adding new functionality to add more automation and make the day to day running of the business more streamlined. A few improvements I’ve worked on this year.

  • We now serve images via a CDN thanks to Bunny.net instead of via s3. This has saved us a nice chunk of money each month not surprising really, we served 2 million requests last month. It was a job I was dreading but setting up the “pull zone” was straight forward and thankfully I’d not done anything “funky” with the image paths on the site so updating these wasn’t much trouble.
  • Removed MailChimp integration and moved to Postmark for all email sends. This allowed us to remove the custom code that “synced” our database with lists on MailChimp when a user changed their preferences on the website - much easier to control in one place. We also send out weekly emails via the website (saving a good chunk of monthly costs). Postmark’s bulk send API is just 👌for this. Ok you don’t get as detailed stats but the basics are just fine in our case.
  • Pricing and labels: The site now produces sets of price labels including product image, barcodes, key information. This was previously done by hand cutting out product images, using a Pritt Stick to adhere the image to a card with another label printed with the product description a time consuming process now completed with the click of a button.
  • Staged payments: A daily time consuming process of taking offline monthly payments from a complicated Excel spreadsheet and producing individual letters. We've now tied the process into the current Laravel database to allow bulk payments to be processed and multiple letters produced in one step. Again reducing the time spent daily on manual time consuming processes.

Side projects #

Just before my Diabetes diagnosis I was working pretty hard and dedicated ALOT of time on releasing a side project which I really thought had potential. But I’ve pretty much parked this idea at least for now. My biggest struggle was that it revolved around the concept of KISS (Keeping it simple) but the actual thing I was trying to pull together was far from that and I just didn’t have the energy or brain power to dedicate to it. It may see the light of day in some form in the future we shall see!

Freestyle Libre API/Scriptable #

The native Freestyle Libre app (for reading your in arm Glucose monitor) does not allow you to view your latest Glucose reading without unlocking your phone. What I thought would be really useful is to be able to view your latest Glucose reading via a widget. After figuring out how to connect to the API (not documented) I was pointed in the direction of Scriptable which allows you to run your own Javascript as a little apps/widget - this seems to do the job really well. I guess the next move should really to be able to write my own apps though I’m not sure I’ve got the energy to learn Swift (At least I think that’s what I’d need?). It's far from perfect due to the way the iOS handles the updating of widgets ie. it updates them when it fancies/feels best so it can mean a little delay in getting an accurate reading but still better than nothing

Freestyle Libre iPhone Widget

Once I was connected to the API I then pulled together a little web interface to “review” my Freestyle Libre readings. My main reasons were that within the iOS app you can’t scroll through the readings in time to review the actual numbers so wanted this to be clearer. I also wanted a time/date as to when to replace the sensor instead of just a number of days. Also a graph on a full screen is much less "spiky" than when condensed on a phone screen 😉.

My readings from last night below (no idea why I was floating around 9 I'm usually pretty good around 6-4 at night 🤷‍♂️)

Freestyle Libre iPhone Widget

Drag Racing #

A quick note on Drag Racing. It was a pretty tough season for Team Dark Horse after replacing the engine and stepping up a class to Super Pro E.T we seemed to be plagued by issues all season not helped by our big wheelie at the start of the year. I did however get to return to Germany after some twenty plus years it was great to be back at Hockenheim always something special wandering about an iconic F1 facility. I also got to achieve another childhood dream of designing/illustrating/producing the team t-shirt something I was really chuffed with and I think we’ve pretty much sold out on them now. I'm so glad I refound my love for this sport the social aspect mixed with getting away for the weekend and being part of a team is a super help for my mental health. I just need a autumn/winter hobby to fill the void!

Dark Horse T-shirt Design

A few other bits of note #

  • Updated the Maple Rock website to create a more streamlined portfolio which I’m hoping will improve our SEO and ranking. I started using a tool called Labrika which suggested a lot of the single portfolio pieces weren’t great for content (low keywords/keyword stuffing) so we’ve moved to sections for each key service. Also removed the rotating banners to improve LCP (Largest content pain) and improved the navigation. So far I've seen any improvements but it's a fun little project.
  • Passed up on the opportunity to absorb/purchase another agency I’d been helping out for a year or so. In the end I just decided it wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do and wanted to concentrate on work I truly wanted to work on.
  • Attended my first Laravel conference (Laravel Live in London). I really enjoyed the two days of talks though looking back wasn’t my best mentally as this was the weekend I finally realised something was wrong with me and needed to do something about.
  • I returned to the world of owning an iPad this time with an Apple pencil. Hands down my favourite app is Notability. Super great for jotting down notes and scribbling down my crazy ideas. I still can’t draw though! Oh I also started using Todoist I’m really enjoying the simplicity and UI of this one.
  • Moved to Raycast from Alfred. I’m really enjoying it though struggling to set hotkeys that I like that aren’t already taken.
  • On a personal level I started seeing a counsellor again. Mainly to come to terms with diabetes and the complications it threw my way but as I come to terms with this I hope I can use these sessions to better understand myself and get my head around my imposter syndrome and improve the things that seem to have always held me back in life.

Fingers crossed 2024 is an improvement on 2023 and I can make some progress into the work I really want to be doing. Oh and I can’t wait to use :has in the wild for the first time. I’ve only been waiting for this to ship in all browsers for I don’t know how long 🙏