Become a Web Developer from Scratch by Victor Bastos – Udemy course Review:

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Udemy.com bannerAs some of you may know, I’ve been studying a course on Web Development for some time now. With the abundance of free time medical retirement has offered me, I have restarted this course which had been left several months back for reasons of health, work and then no work. It’s called “Become a Web Developer from Scratch” and it’s taught by Victor Bastos. This is my review of the course so far.

“Become a Web Developer from Scratch” Udemy course review:

I’ve, admittedly, only completed one Chapter of this course, but thought I would give a review of how it’s going so far and my thoughts. First, some stats about the course:

  • The course cost $199 (£125/€159).
  • There are 8 sections (or chapters), each of which is a different web development language to learn.
  • The course teaches Basics, Back end development and front end development.
  • There are 233 lectures made up of 37 hours worth of video presentations, PDF’s and code examples
  • No “Death by PowerPoint”. All videos are screencast’s where you watch Victor explain the subject
  • The course is self paced and you can ask questions to the 44000 strong community of learners on the same course.

The entire course is set up of Lectures, one after another, most about 5 to 10 minutes in length. Each video is a different topic about the language you are learning. Victor Bastos, the lecturer, will take you through the examples and explain how each part of the code works together. Examples are given throughout the videos which you are encouraged to try to improve on yourself. The last source code is available to download for each video so you can check your code to his.
Should you run in to any problems, each lecture has its own discussion board, where people can post questions which will either be answered by Victor himself, or other users further along the course than you who may well have come up against the same problem. If there are any major problems, you can message Victor personally who will get back to you ASAP.

As you progress through the section, you learn more and more complex skills of the sections’ language. By the end, you’re ready to put it all together to build a final project. In the first section of XHTML & CSS, you learn how to write a very modern looking website from the ground up. Every aspect of the final project is designed to use all the new skills you have learned in the section.

section 1 final project image

The Final Project for Section 1 is this attractive website with three pages, images, tables, navigation bars and all styled with CSS.

The course is structured as such that you learn the very basics first (XHTML & CSS) and then add to it by increasing the complexity and usability of your skills. In all, you learn ten separate and essential languages to help build modern and dynamic websites:

  1. XHTML & CSS
  2. JavaScript
  3. PHP & MySQL
  4. XML
  5. JSON
  6. AJAX
  7. jQuery
  8. HTML5 & CSS3

Some may wonder why you learn the outdated code first, and the most modern standard last. The explanation from Victor is simple: many websites you see out there today are still coded in older styles of HTML. If you learn the old code first, it makes it easier (and makes more sense) when you learn the new standard of HTML5. Personally, I agree with this. You learn the old (often harder) way first, then find out there’s now an easier way of doing it. Isn’t that always the way?

There is no previous knowledge of coding, HTML, internet or anything to be able to take part in this course. As long as you can handle a browser (which, if you’re reading this, you can) and a text editor, you have the necessary skills to start.

No one is perfect:

Considering this was Victor Bastos’ first ever course teaching through videos, it’s fair to say there are some rough edges here and there. First off, as you may have guessed by the name, Victor is Portuguese, so he is teaching this course in a second language. He has an accent, but speaks very clearly so that nothing he says is a total guess. My main quibble about the course is that unlike some more commercial or professional videos (from other resources such as Treehouse), the lectures to have a feeling of improvisation about them. By this, I mean that Victor will often write out code and then change his mind about what to right and start again. There are the inevitable mind blanks whilst he tries to think of what to type, and, of course, code errors. Hey, no one’s perfect. That being said, the code errors are good, because not only does it give you a chance to spot them before Victor does in the video, but also shows you what little errors in code can throw up, and potentially save you hours of searching for errors in your code down the line.

Personally, I’d like to see the lessons build towards a bigger picture. For example, to be shown the final project at the beginning of the section, so that when Victor cover’s something you can visibly see on the page, he could refer back to it saying “see, this is how we can use tables for these individual text boxes” etc. My final critique is that there are sometimes subjects that Victor will glance over or not explain as clearly as I would like. This is where broader study has to come in. I have read books on the subject alongside the lectures to help reaffirm what was covered or even find things that were missed out. For HTML & CSS, I highly recommend the HTML & CSS book by Jon Duckett, or one of the Head First books by O’Reilly.

Future of the course:

I’ve had this course for nearly two years, and it’s already been refreshed and updated once since then. Victor, along with some of the first students to take the course, are setting up an online training academy called Onclick Academy which is currently in Beta. All the videos are there from the Udemy course, but with some nice updates where user feedback has pointed out improvements. Victor also recently announced that he is working on “Become a Web Developer from Scratch 2.0”, which will be a completely new course with updated lectures and explore other languages for web development.

Conclusion:

I may not have finished the entire course yet (I’m only 25% of the way through), but I do find it very useful as base for learning. However, I would recommend that you also read supporting books on each subject which may explain subjects in more detail or new subjects that Victor may have missed out. I also use the W3Schools website to back up the lectures as this is also a good resource for learning and code examples and has lessons on 6 of the 10 languages covered.

If you’re a budding Web Developer in the making (like me) then I would highly recommend this course. For the price, there are few out there to match it with such responsive teachers and such a large community. The course has a promising future too, so it’s not likely to go dead any time soon.

You can find “Become a Web Developer from Scratch” by Victor Bastos on Udemy.

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Why I chose a Fitbit Flex over other devices on the market:

Fitbit Flex
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First of all, I need to offer my apologies: This post was meant to hit the blog just after Christmas. In fact, I thought it had, but a comment on my earlier post about using the Fitbit in my wheelchair showed me I hadn’t. Then, life and illness got in the way, so, sorry.

Secondly, I just want to say how pleased I am that this is grabbing people’s interest. I even had a Paralympic Medalist show interest in my post, which was a great inspiration. I have also had several people reach out to me through the comments section of the earlier post asking for updates and advice. To those people, I say sorry this has taken so long to post and thank you for getting in contact. I will try to answer as many questions as I can and always give you an honest answer.

So, without further ado…

Last month, I wrote an article about buying an activity tracker to help me keep healthy. I thought in this article, I’d outline my reasons about why I chose the Fitbit in particular and how I’ve come to like the online dashboard and phone apps.

Why did I choose the Fitbit Flex?

There are a lot of features advertised on the Fitbit website, as well as some others that aren’t (like having NFC, that wasn’t mentioned anywhere!), so here’s why I chose the Fitbit Flex. Other than the reason that my wife, Lorna, also chose it, that is.

  1. Silent alarms: One of the major pulls towards a fitness tracker was the silent alarm feature. Working shifts, I would often have to wake up very early, and a usual alarm clock wasn’t very sociable in a house with two young boys and a wife. The silent alarms are very good. The Fitbit Flex has a small vibrating motor in it which will buzz when you set it. It’s quite a strong vibration, so it should wake you (unless you’re a really really heavy sleeper). As it happens, I’m no longer working shifts, but the point still stands. The vibration also lets you know when you have passed you daily goal, or when you have correctly set the Flex in/out of sleep mode.
  2. Social Features: Fitbit’s API means that any other website/services can help integrate the Fitbit into their service and vice versa. This means I’m able to integrate my Fitbit in with MyFitnessPal.com, the diet logging app I chose to use (yes you can log food on the Fitbit, but more on that later). The other advantage is that Fitbit is so popular, I already had several friends using the Fitbit, so I had people to ‘compete’ against.
  3. Long Battery: It’s true, some other trackers have longer battery life than the Fitbit, but I was happy with the 5-6 days. Most every other day I have a bath anyway, during which I top up the battery of the unit. This is simple enough to do, you just slip the little unit out from the wristband (the unit itself is about an inch long by a quarter-inch wide) and place it in the cradle of the charger. Once the unit is fully charged, all 5 LED’s flash together (and not remain solid like the instructions say). Most of the time, I get roughly 4-6 days use out of one charge, depending on how much I move and how often it synchs to my phone in the background.
  4. Fitbit’s Support: When I was thinking of buying an activity tracker, I searched the internet to see if anyone had done what I’m doing now, writing about using a tracker in wheelchair. I didn’t find one. I sent emails to the three companies at the top of my list: Jawbone, Withings and Fitbit. The only answer I got from Withings was their holding email and nothing else, not a great first impression. Jawbone answered and were very helpful, but couldn’t comment on whether the device would be suitable for use in a wheelchair. Fitbit support, however, were very helpful in saying that it had been used by people in wheelchairs, and whilst he admitted it wasn’t designed with wheelchair users in mind, it would still record steps as if I were walking. They then went on to say that they would be happy to take any feedback towards making it a more friendly wheelchair friendly device.

Day-to-day life with a Fitbit Flex:

I’ve used the Fitbit Flex for over a month now, and I have to say I’m really impressed. The device has taught me a lot about myself and how I move throughout the day. It in fact showed me that I move more than I thought.

I had originally set my daily target (after finding out I could change it, which was a large relief. I didn’t like the idea of being taunted at not reaching 10000 steps each day) to 100 steps. On the first day out of bed, I reached that walking down the corridor to the kitchen, having waved my hand round whilst sitting up in bed. After a bit of trial and error, I actually found that, on average, I would register about 2000 steps a day, which isn’t bad when you consider I mainly walk around the house, getting myself cups of tea and writing at the kitchen table.

This is where I think a distinction has to be made. What the Fitbit Flex records isn’t steps, but activity. When I power my manual wheelchair, I’m using my arms. The Fitbit will record it as steps, but actually, I’m rolling round. The fact is, I’ve moved, and not stay sitting in a chair doing nothing or being pushed round. I think that Nike’s concept of ‘Fuel’ isn’t actually a bad one. Many reviews I read when looking into these trackers said that the Nike Fuel Band was a bad choice because it used a random concept, fuel, and not a quantifiable measurement as a step. In actual fact, for a wrist worn tracker, they probably had the better terminology. To prove my point, the other day, my Fitbit Flex buzzed at me to tell me I had passed my daily activity goal. I was drying my hair at the time.

What ever you call your activity log, when you want to view it, because the Flex has no screen, you can either use the Mobile app (iOS or Android), or you can use the Fitbit Dashboard via their website.

Fitbit Mobile and Web Apps:

First the Apps.

Fitbit Flex, Wheelchair

This is the Android Fitbit app as seen from my Nexus 7.

Both are well laid out and allow you to see all the most important details you want in a list. Tap on each section, and you’re taken to a screen with more detail about the choice.

Fitbit Flex Android App

This is the details screen for the amount of steps taken.

If you press the button at the top right of the graph, the graph rotates 90 degrees to show you a bit more detail of the times and steps taken. What’s frustrating is that it doesn’t do this automatically when you rotate the device, you have to press that icon.

Fitbit Android App3

This shows the horizontal information given, this time in the sleep tab. The dark blue is sleep, the light blue is activity whilst I sleep, and the pink is movement/awake.

Swipe to the left, and you are shown a graph for the distance reached, then calories burned and finally most active minutes. I don’t know what it classes as a most active minute, but needless to say, I don’t reach them often.

You can also see the leaderboard between you and all your Fitbit friends as show below (I have removed their names for privacy):

Fitbit Flex

Fitbit Friends Leaderboard on the Android App. You can add a friend, as long as you know their email address.

Although well implemented, the apps don’t really give you a lot of detail other than being able to your current stats. For better information, you have to head to the Web Dashboard, where you can see all your data with more detailed information. Similar to the apps, you are presented with a range of panels, each displaying their own stats (one for steps, one for calories burnt, one for food etc.) Clicking on the little arrow at the bottom of each panel will take you to another screen with much more information about each and enable you to log extra activity (or even give the activities you have done a title and not just “x amount of steps”).

Fitbit Flex

This is as much as I could fit of the Fitbit online dashboard onto my screen.

The mobile apps are frustratingly simple. They are fine for checking in on your stats to see how you’re doing for the day, but for a proper detailed analysis, you’ll have to go to the Dashboard. Also, on iOS, there is no iPad app, so you have to deal with heavy pixelation to view your stats.

If you thought “I’ll just view the dashboard in my mobile browser” I’m sorry to say this is not responsive design, meaning you get the same look as you would on a computer with a 15′ screen. Although not a big problem, zooming and panning around all that data can be difficult.

Remember I said above (in the second bullet point about social features) that I chose to use MyFitbessPall to log all my food entries? The reason for this is simple. Fitbit doesn’t have a UK-based food database. It is said to be in the pipeline, but frankly, because I was already using MyFitnessPal, and their app allows you to scan the barcode of the item you want to enter. With the API, it means that, as long as I have linked the two accounts together, my calorie content is transferred to Fitbit’s so you can see how much you’ve burned against how many you have consumed.

Final Conclusion:

To finish, I just want to say that I’m really glad Lorna, and I got these trackers. Lorna has definitely found it a help, and we have both been keeping an eye on our food intake and exercise output. Even over Christmas, we tried to be as careful and make good decisions whilst enjoying a yummy Christmas dinner.

I will be writing more updates and keeping you all informed about how using this Fitbit Flex has kept me healthy. I’m planning on showing the difference between a wrist worn device verses a hip worn device.

Oh, and Happy New Year readers! I hope 2014 is good to you. After all, it’s a new year, make a fresh start.

Using a Fitbit in a wheelchair:

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Using a Fitbit in a wheelchair

So many to chose from, all with good and bad points.

Being in a wheelchair, exercise isn’t as easy as ‘popping’ to the gym and using the treadmill, or going for a morning run. Because the lives of wheelchair users are more sedentary than the average office worker, who at least walk to the car/toilet/lunch, we have to make a bit more of an effort at it. Or so I thought.

Motivation to track my steps:

In an effort to help my wife in her battle in losing weight, I decided to get us an activity tracker for Christmas. I spent two weeks looking into the different types of devices on the market which included the Fitbit family of devices (Fitbit One, Fitbit Flex, Fitbit Force), the Jawbone Up, and the Withings Pulse.  Each device had advantages and disadvantages. My thoughts of the best suitable trackers for me was:

  • A wrist mounted devices so that I’m less likely to lose it.
  • Be able to track my sleep, steps and calories burnt.
  • Connect with the other fitness apps I use.
  • The ability to connect to my phone to sync data and view stats.

In all my research, I couldn’t find any blog post, article or even forum post on all the fitness forums about the use of an activity tracker, like the ones mentioned above, in a wheelchair. The whole ‘raison d’ étre’ for an activity tracker is to track steps, which obviously not something I do a lot of. I can just about hobble around the flat on a good day, but anything beyond my front door is achieved using a wheelchair or mobility scooter. I sent Fitbit, Jawbone and Withings an email asking if it was any use in me buying a device being that I would be in a wheelchair most of the time. Only Fitbit had the decency to reply. Although written from a heavily marketing point of view, they did say that although the device is designed to be to track steps, it would give a reasonable measure of activity, allowing for a slightly larger margin of error than for walking. They reassured me that they were trying their best to make it as compatible with wheelchair users and would work on getting the margin of error down to a more acceptable level. I’d like to think this series of posts will help and maybe encourage other wheelchair or disabled readers to buy a tracker to stay fit and healthy.

Final decision:

After many hours reading all the reviews, comparisons and walk-through, I decided that as this was going to be a present for both me and my wife, I had to ask for her advice, despite ‘ruining’ the surprise.

We both decided that if we were going to get one, we ought to get the same one for compatibility. There wouldn’t be much point in me getting a different device as we wouldn’t be able to link up and compare stats. Lorna looked through all the devices I suggested, and we decided to get the Fitbit Flex tracker.

Why?

I can almost hear people making comments saying something like “Why don’t you use [xyz] app which will track your steps, and [xyz] to track your sleep?” or “Wouldn’t a pedometer be cheaper?”. Here is my answer to those comments.

The point of using a wristband format and not a clip on at the waist device is simple: I’m very forgetful, and sooner or later, it would end up in the wash. There are plenty of posts on the internet about people who have forgotten to take off their tracker from their trousers/bra/shirt, and it ends up in the wash. 7 times out of 10, the device is unusable, and they need to buy a new one. Pedometers are no more reliable than the wristband. Most cheap ones can be given a shake, and they add ten steps. Plus, when in the wheelchair, pushing myself along, the pedometer or clip on tracker is less likely to pick up the movement, where as being attached to my arm which is pushing the wheels to get around, it records the activity.

With regards to using phone based apps to track my sleep and steps, I’ve tried them. The step based apps usually do ok, as long as the device is in my pocket. But often, when I’m sitting round at home, it’s on the table, or on the sofa or (more often than not) being charged. Something attached to my wrist is always there, just like my watch.
The phone based sleep tracking apps are usually unsatisfactory because they rely on you having the phone placed on the mattress, and it records the vibration and noise. The problem is, I often move round in my sleep, and will knock the phone off the mattress, therefore rendering the stats null. Furthermore, it means that the phone has to be on and charging all night, which makes it hotter and it’s not recommended to have it under the pillow, which would secure it.

Stay tuned…

This is only the first of many posts to do with the Fitbit use in a wheelchair. I urge you, should you come across this in months to come without a recent update, to send me a message or comment asking for an update, and I will do so ASAP.

Next up: My thoughts on the Fitbit dashboard and phone apps

Photo Challenge for CRPS/RSD Awareness – Days 4 & 5:

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I delayed my photo’s of days four and five of the CRPS/RSD awareness Photo Challenge because I had a problem.

Day 4: A picture of your favourite quote.
Day 5: A picture of what brings you hope.

I didn’t have anything that fitted into this criteria at first thought. I really don’t have a favourite quote relating to CRPS/RSD. I have one about writing I made up (One word written is better than a thousand planned) but not for CRPS. As I was trying to rack my brain, I suddenly remembered a song I had taken great comfort in. For a time, I was convinced it should be the anthem for anyone with Chronic Pain. It’s a song by Michael Bublé called “Hold On”. Bellow you will find a YouTube video of him singing it.

I personally feel that Michael Bublé is a very talented singer. The reason I like the song so much, and why I’m choosing it as my “quote of hope” is because of the lyrics. There are some which I find very relevant to people with Chronic Pain such as:

[…] maybe all the plans we made might not work out
But I have no doubt even though it’s hard to see
I’ve got faith in us, I believe in you and me […]

and:

[…] There’s so many dreams that we have given up
Take a look at all we’ve got
And with this kind of love what we’ve got here is enough […]

It’s true that with Chronic Pain, and CRPS/RSD in particular, the plans we once made may no longer be possible. For example, I had always planned on becoming a Police Officer in the UK. It was my goal straight from leaving school. In the September after leaving school, I went for an interview with London’s Metropolitan Police. I failed (badly), but using the feedback they gave me, worked hard to gain life experience so that I would be ready for the next interview. I got as far as becoming a Police Community Support Officer which is not a sworn officer, but have many powers such as giving out tickets, collecting evidence, taking details of crimes etc. They don’t have powers of arrest (other than citizen powers of arrest).

Once I contracted CRPS, and it slowly spread up my leg and the pain got worse and worse, I couldn’t walk a beat anymore. I could no longer pursue my dream of becoming a Police Officer. I was fortunate that my Police force was very understanding and have allowed me to continue my job as a desk based worker in a different department.

The other reason I like this song is because the chorus tells the listener to hold on and not give up hope. This is where day five’s place comes in with the following picture:

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This is a picture of my two boys (on either end), my wife (on the left), my parents-in-law (on the back row) and my wife’s cousin (in the middle). Like I’ve already said in day two, my wife has had to become my carer and has done so without being asked or coerced. She is always there for me to “hold on” to. So are my children.

I may not be able to get rid of this terrible disease, but thanks to the support of my wife and children, it won’t be so hard.

CRPS/RSD Photo Challenge – day 3: Share a Photo of ways you cope with pain

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Yesterday, I was asked to show you a picture of ways I cope with CRPS/RSD pain. This photo, shows you the majority of ways I deal with my pain. I must confess, however, I take a lead from one of my friends who is also a sufferer and taking this challenge on the facebook group. My apologies to you Lynsey, but I guess we both have similar ways of coping.

Laptop (top left)

The laptop signifies my writing and coding which help me to escape my pain. I have so far written two manuscripts which I edit in slow time . I’m also learning to code HTML and Java. It is my hope when I have finished this, I will turn into a freelancing business from home, thereby no longer having to stress myself out getting to work. I mainly write fantasy, which also helps in my escapism.

Buddhism (top right)

I was raised a Christian, but found that Buddhism spoke more to me than the teachings of the bible. It has helped me see this disease as nothing more than Karma and not luck, melovolance or anything else. I have also come to see my suffering as a good thing. This may sound strange, but in my view, if I have this disease, then that’s one less person who has to deal with it. Maybe this is somewhat foolish thinking (as I doubt that Karma takes into account the amount of disease to spread round, but it makes me feel a little happier).

Batman (middle right)

I have been a Batman fan since I was a young boy, collecting stickers to enter in a book. I have only recently rekindled my love for the capped crusader, and have been watching videos and films, reading comics and books and playing games and role play on Batman, which I find very escapist and soothing.

Kindle (and/or other books)

Any other kind of reading, whether it be general fiction, HTML or Coding books or self help books, I find very relaxing. Ever since I finished a book cover to cover for the first time at the age of 14, I’ve been hooked on reading. My favourite fiction author is Lee Child. I just love the character of Reacher (no, not the Tom Cruise version).

Tablets (mid centre)

The tablets quite clearly are my most regular coping technique as I take 11 ½ tablets a day spread over three occasions (and trust me, that’s low compared to some of my friends). I don’t appreciate the constant side effects that all these drugs give me, but I’d be worse off without them.

Earl Grey Tea (mid centre)

Earl Grey tea is my go to for relaxation tea. My other is Green Tea. I originally started drinking Earl Grey because it was Captain Jean Luke Picard’s drink in Star Trek: The Next Generation, which was one of my favourite programs as a kid. I find the smell instantly soothing as he often would have it as a refreshment when contemplating a difficult situation, or giving council to one of his officers.

Gaming (bottom left)

As I already said, I find gaming another great escape from my pain. Inside the world of gaming, I can explore deep and mysterious caves in Skyrim, or zoom round the streets of San Francisco in Driver or, better yet, jump off rooftops and swoop in on criminals and solve clues as The Worlds Best Detective (Batman). I think what I enjoy most is that in all these games, I’m not walking round Gotham with a stick or looking to see if the cave is accessibility friendly. I can walk again, without pain or sticks.

Walking Sticks (bottom)

Having just cursed them, my walking sticks are another coping mechanism. They are quite literally a crutch. If it were not for my sticks or my wheelchair, I would not be able to get round the flat. My leg often gives way, and the sticks help me to keep stabilised.

If it were not for all these things, along with the support of my family (mentioned in my previous post) my pist-CRPS/RSD life would be unbearable.

More Writing, More Coding, More… Everything:

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'FF More' photo (c) 2011, FontFont - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I’ve been lacking a lot lately. Not just at home, but in work, in hobbies and in life. I have my reasons, namely going back to work on a gruelling schedule (for me), good and bad days with CRPS (more on that in another post), and just general laziness. I have found I’m quite capable of sitting in front of TV all day without doing anything. “Nothing new there!” my family would say, but it’s really bugging me. I don’t like waking up in the morning with plans to do XYZ and ending up doing ABC or, even worse, nothing.

Previous attempts:

I have tried not to be stuck in neutral and doing nothing all day, despite my brain screaming at me to do something. I’ve tried to use to-do systems like Get Things Done (GTD) as well as many programs which swear to banish inactivity, but these systems and programs all rely on one thing: Discipline.

Many years ago, when I was about to finish School, my father had a frank discussion with me in which he felt I wouldn’t do well at University, but would gladly support my choice of going or not. When I asked why he didn’t think I would do well, he said that it was totally different from school, in that it was all self-discipline. No one would tell me to go to my room and do my homework, it would be off my own back. Looking back, I can’t thank him enough for giving me that advice, as I do think I would have been too ‘busy’ doing other things (basically excuses to keep me from going to class or doing work) to actually do any university work.

Now, the same problems have resurfaced. As you may remember, last year alone, I wrote two 50,000 word novels. I haven’t looked at them since. Why? Partly because I was letting them simmer, so that when I came back to them, they would be fresh and errors would leap off the page. Every good book, blog or advice about writing tells you to take a break from a long stint of writing, not to go straight into the editing. That doesn’t mean I leave it for a year!

The (hopeful) solution:

I have therefore decided that starting September 2nd, I will start a whole new regime of discipline which should mean more writing, more coding and more time with my family. This involves a whole new filing system, new to-do system and new work ethic.

On my new shift at work I work 4 days out of 9 (call it 5/10 for simplicity). That means that 50% of my time should be taken up with work, and 50% should be taken up with home.

If I split home into four unequal parts, I should take 5% for resting (from work), 15% for family time (which means time with the boys, doing ‘daddy’ things), 10% for coding, 10% for writing and 10% for reading/learning/chores/more resting/anything else. I think this is a pretty good way of splitting my home time with my work time, without compromising my health or any part of my life.

I also intend on using a new routine for my down days (days when I’m not at work) to use my spare time more effectively. As of now, I’ve been having breakfast in front of the TV, watching my favourite show (whatever my favourite show happens to be at that time) and, when I get bored, either moving on to the next thing on my list or, more likely, the next program I can find that grabs my attention. The majority of time I spend coding or writing is usually round bed time, when I seem to have the most energy (ironically) and not fall asleep at the keyboard the minute I open up the laptop.

From now on, I intend on using a more rigorous routine which will allow for a more timetabled schedule throughout the day. I haven’t ironed out the plan, but at the moment, that looks something like:

  • Eating breakfast whilst reading latest articles/blogs etc
  • By 9am, start with writing (blog posts, freelance articles, novels), using the Pomodoro technique of time management to work in 25 minute blocks till lunch
  • Lunch (I don’t tend to have lunch on my own at home), reading any new articles/catching up on twitter/emails/phone calls.
  • By 1pm, start work again, this time on coding (at the moment, still learning), still using the Pomodoro technique till the boys come home.
  • Spend time with the boys, engage with them, play with them etc.
  • Spend time with Lorna once she comes home, making her tea/coffee and letting her recover from work (she lets me do the same when I work, so it’s only fair).
  • Bed, at a reasonable hour, not 3am (which is often the case at the moment).

Why the ‘Family Time’ Block?

I have been asked, or can imagine it being asked, why I need to divide time to spend with the boys/wife, surely this is an obvious part of being a family man? Yes, of course it’s an obvious part of being a parent and husband, but I have to admit, I’ve been dropping the ball lately on that, not spending time with the boys when here, or being on the compute all night instead of spending time with Lorna. It’s not because I’m being antisocial or because I don’t want to spend time with my family, it’s because I’m generally playing catch up to all my other commitments. Being a part-time worker, part-time freelancer, I have a great gift of time (the 5/10 days) to spend on my hobby/business of freelancing. Most starting freelancers don’t have that luxury. I now need to use this time effectively. Doing so will mean I’m not furiously trying to type up an article whilst looking after the boys, or half-heartedly trying to learn HTML whilst ‘spending time’ with Lorna.

Seeing as this post has gone on longer than I’d planned, I will outline what tools I intend on helping me to carry out this feat of remodelling behaviour. This will be released tomorrow, so don’t forget to come back and read the follow-up.

Lex Allen – The Making of Imagine – Guest Blog post

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No Heaven Book cover by Author Lex Allen

It is my very great pleasure that FIghtingeveryday is a a stop on Lex Allen’s guest blog tour. Lex is a fellow writer and is releasing No Heaven, the first in a trilogy where religion, politics and the fate of the world rests in on man’s hands.

THE MAKING OF IMAGINE

by Lex Allen

I was raised a Southern Baptist—those who don’t dance, wear make-up, swear, or drink– those who fornicate strictly for procreation, and smile only when spreading the Gospel.  Back then I couldn’t define the word hypocrite, but I certainly saw its application demonstrated countless times… from dancing to fornicating, these Baptists paid no attention to the correlation between their words and their actions.  As soon as I was able, I got out of there – the religious environment and the home.

I’ve always been a voracious reader.  Reading was my escape from life’s miseries, real or imagined.  Before I discarded religion as BS, I read the Bible a couple of times from front to back.  Although I couldn’t get on board with the Christian teachings, I was fascinated with Jesus – the man.  I didn’t believe he was the Son of God or that he saved everyone from sin by dying on the cross.  No, my fascination dealt first with the miracles and later–much later–with what his true message might have been.  IF Jesus had been a real person and the Bible’s New Testament equaled the Old Testament for excellence in fantasy fiction; WHAT might his true purpose have been?  A virgin birth didn’t happen, so WHERE did he come from?

Many years later, the advent of the computer and the internet exponentially expanded my reading habits and topics.  I was now reading about quantum physics, Buddhism, spiritualism and psychic phenomena. The works of Dan Brown, Michael Crichton and James Rollins led me to religious, political and societal conspiracies.  I was subconsciously building what would become the Imagine Trilogy.

When I actually started writing that first novel, I quickly realized that, perhaps, I’d bitten off more than I could chew.  My writing experience to that point had been a few short stories, song lyrics, and a couple of years writing flash and collaborative fiction on the internet.  I also had two lead female protagonists, but I know “jack” about women – how they think or act, especially intelligent, self-confident women, as Dr. Washburn was, and Kate Barrow became.

I went looking for a female co-writer and found a great one, but lost her due to her conflicting responsibilities.  I found a second co-writer, only to lose her as well.  I was almost two years into the story by then, and the stress from work, family, and losing two co-writers were more than I could overcome.  I quit writing. The story sat in a file, untouched for more than six months.

I couldn’t get the story out of my head, but I couldn’t make myself sit down and start writing again.  There was a tiger in the writing room.  As long as I had been going in there, feeding the creature every day – all was well.  When I stopped, and the tiger began to get hungry – I became afraid to go back in there.

I can’t recall the dream that served as catalyst, but one morning, I awoke around 4 A.M. I opened the door to the writing room, grabbed that tiger by the neck, and slung him into a corner.  Then I sat down and started writing.  Just like that.

The words flowed like a river, sometimes lazy and slow; but occasionally in a torrential flood for the next five months.  I wrote every morning, from three a.m. until I left for work around seven.  Then it was done—the first book in the trilogy was complete.

Now what?  Naïve and supremely confident in my own English and grammar skills, I began submitting query letters to agents and publishers.  I was confident that my story was the best work of fiction since…well, the Bible. I knew I would quickly land a righteous agent/publishing deal.

Sigh.  We’ve all been there haven’t we?  The wait, the rejection slips – some no more than a mere form letter; the re-writing of synopsis – query letter – pitch and still… nothing.  Like hundreds of thousands of other hopeful writers, eager to become the next Stephen King or  J.K Rowling, I decided to join the “Indies” and self-published.  The adventures of becoming an indie author are fodder for another blog, at another time. Let me, however, leave you with this:

After self-publishing, I learned the hard way about identifying your target audience – I finally did and the result was an immediate change in the title, from The Second Advent: Disciples to No Heaven.  After several months with very few sales, I learned the necessity of finding an editor.  I found a lady in England and she’s fantastic. And finally, hooking up with Ampersand H Book Design and Marketing became the turning point in an otherwise fruitless effort.  Now, I’m two novels and a few thousand words into the third of the Imagine Trilogy.  The conclusion, “No Religion” will be published before the end of the year and then…

I think that Eloah and several other characters in the Imagine Trilogy will have some new and exciting adventures on other universes, in different times.  I hope that you will stay tuned.

Lex’s Bio:

Lex Allen - Author

Born in San Marcos, Texas, Lex Allen was raised in the Bible Belt towns of Corpus Christi and Austin. At the age of 17 he began an extensive military career with the U.S. Army. The Army took him to Germany where he met his wife, raised a family, and remained after he redirected his career into a civil service position with the U.S Department of Defense. During this time Lex also wrote, performed, and published fourteen songs with MCP Records in Austria that led to accolades from the European Country Music Association as “Best Band and Best Album” in 1997. In 2012 he left his civil service career to pursue his passion for writing – this time trading the 12-note musical scale for the 26-character alphabet. He has since published the first two books in The Imagine Trilogy as well as an anthology of horror stories, “Lovably Dead”, published under the pseudonym Alex Eldrich.

Lex’s views began to take shape in a stereotypical Southern Baptist home in the Bible Belt of America.  An astute and eager student, he studied alternative views on spirituality and quickly became disenfranchised with the organized religion he was presented with at home. A lifetime of contemplation and over a decade of intense research into the history of Christianity, alternative spiritual philosophy, and quantum physics provided the foundation for The Imagine Trilogy. Allen has used his research and personal spiritual journey to sculpt a work of fiction that presents a thoughtful and plausible alternative dogma and religious conspiracy in a fast-paced, thriller format.

Lex currently resides with his wife of 30 years in a century old Bauernhaus in Germany where he spends his days feverishly writing the anticipated conclusion to The Imagine Trilogy, “No Religion”, scheduled for publication in late 2013.

About No Heaven:

No Heaven Book cover

The first time He walked our Earth, He came to teach people the way to inner peace and everlasting life without fear of death or oppression by those with religious or political power. He failed.

In the streets of Germany, a mysterious man appears proclaiming himself to be Jesus. In the middle of the afternoon mass in Kölner Dom, this man shocks the masses with unfathomable healings and miracles. However, this Jesus is different from the stories and age-old traditions. He claims to have returned to Earth to save the human race from impending nuclear war and rebukes the religion sculpted around his name.

With the help of the skeptic blogger Jack Schmidt, university film student Kate Barrow, and theology professor Dr. Beth Washburn, Jesus races to save the world’s fate as political and religious forces attempt to stop him at every turn.

Click here to listen to or read a sample chapter, or click here to find No Heaven on  Amazon.

The scavenger hunt code for this post is “Eloah“.  Visit all four blog tour stops to collect each code word, then visit www.lexallen.com/scavenger-hunt/ for a chance to win prizes!