Do we ask too much of people who write tutorials?

I have a common problem, I’m not that bright most of the time. Most people aren’t. Most people don’t have to be because we can all Google things and that’s as bright as we need to be in the modern age and I’m mostly OK with that…

Until I really think about it and then I despair for the future.

I digress.

Anything in the world that you don’t know how to do you can find out from the internet. Google and YouTube are your go to fonts of human knowledge, teeming with the collective wisdom of millions of people who by and large know their shit. Tutorials are everywhere. The online learning industry was apparently worth $107 Billion in 2015 and that isn’t including the free stuff so you can triple that for a start. It’s huge and there’s the problem.

How do you find the one you want? The one that’s at the level you need? The one that actually solves your problem and doesn’t make you spend 15 minutes reading to find out it’s about something else?
I spend half of my day sometimes researching how to do a new thing online, a new language, framework, pointless time sucking workflow trend or whatever and the tutorials are shocking. I’m mean that. Utter rubbish designed to keep you reading for 5 pages worth of adverts whilst missing out the crucial part of whatever it’s trying to teach you. I’ve fallen for it before. Many times.

The problem is assumed knowledge.

The tutorial writer assumes, subconsciously I hope because otherwise they’re an arsehole, that we all know the basics of what we’re looking up, or worse, that we all know what they know already. You see it all the time in programming tutorials…

“Simply alter the SASS file and it will all be compiled by unicorns into perfect reusable code and your peers will deify you”

Neglecting to mention that it will compile into nothing because although the writer carefully took you through all of the command line steps to compile SASS they didn’t mention the part about having Ruby installed first, so it won’t work and you won’t know why.
Took me 27 different tutorials to find out that little snippet of information. 27. Work that out in billable hours and then add the cost of a keyboard.

I was going to write a similar tale about Node.js and NPM and Grunt but read those two links there and you’ll see why I didn’t want to smash another keyboard.

It’s not always hard to fix either. Take Bower for example. Line 3 of the install instructions state “Bower requires node, npm and git”. This is good. If it added “installed in that order” it would be better because some poor beginner is going to come along and not realise that the order is important, lose half their day, their hair, and their will to learn and possibly to live.

So a plea to the writers of these things:

Remember that not everyone is already an expert, if they knew as much as you they wouldn’t need the tutorial.

If you’re writing for a beginner write from the beginning. If something needs prior knowledge then point that out at the start, even a link to a more basic piece would be good.

Please don’t make us get to the end before we figure out there were three steps before you started, remember it’s you we’re calling names at that point.

Don’t use the phrase “simply blahblablah whatever it is” you’re assuming prior knowledge again and that’s bad.

Give it to your kids to read, if they can can get SASS up and running from scratch after reading what you have written then the rest of us should be cool. Unless your kid is a genius, in which case use another kid who isn’t.

You’re all writers and I’m not, so I’m going to assume you’re getting my point and leave it here with my thanks for the sterling work that most tutorial writers do. Keep it up we all need to learn stuff but I swear if this goes missing in Github again I’m coming for all of you I swear…………..

What do you mean it’s too big?

Sometimes you want to upload a file, an image maybe, a zip file, a video that’s not hosted on Youtube or Vimeo and you suddenly find you’ve hit a wall. It’s too big. Your default file size says something like 2MB and you know it’s going to be useless forever. Nevermind, it’s OK.

Create a new file in your editor of choice and name it php.ini.

Enter these 2 lines (altering the sizes to whatever you need) :

upload_max_filesize = 15M
post_max_size = 15M

I believe that in theory these 2 numbers could be different, say 50MB for files and only 2MB for posts, but in practice it seems to have to be the same. That’s in my experience on my servers. Try it out, your mileage may vary.

Now save the file via FTP to the wp-admin directory of your WordPress installation. On a shared host putting it inside the wp-admin directory will stop it from applying to everything on your account and may also stop it interfering with your host’s prefered method of doing things which is what gave you your 2MB limit in the first place.


FTP – Or how to put baby in the corner.

FTP, or File Transfer Protocol is the method used to get a file from your computer on your desk to the file server that your website is hosted on. To do this you need two things:

  1. An FTP account with your hosting providor.
  2. An FTP program.

The FTP account will come as part of your hosting account with your service providor. You’ll be given an address something like ftp.yourdomain.com and a username and password to access it. This will give you access to the directories on the server where your website files are stored.

An FTP program is a piece of software that is used to actually do the transfer of files between your computer and the server. There are many different options available from the very simple to the quite complex and you can choose one depending on what you need. Your hosting providor will usually have a web based version built into your control panel which can be handy for a quick and dirty update but an actual desktop program is probably best. Some of the popular ones are:

  • WinSCP for Windows. This is my personal choice. It’s a bit complex because it handles secure files and encryption. Most people start with something simpler.
  • CoreFTP. Is a popular choice but not one I’ve used.
  • Cyberduck. Famous on the Mac but also has a Windows version

There are many other options to consider and you’ll go through a few until you find one you like. A quick Google of FTP software comparison will find you plenty of articles about the pro’s and cons of the ones on the market. For a more in depth look at how FTP works then this WikiPedia article is a good start.

Thankfully if you use a CMS such as WordPress, Ghost, Drupal or any of the others you’ll find that they have file transfer built in so you may never have to use it. It’s handy to know how though.

Bugs… or not.

I say bug report, might not be a bug. Might be the internet being built wholly on the corpses of all the bugs before. But anyway…

At the start, with Ghostery activated I get the following image.


As you can see I have the login menu available, if not immediately obvious, and everything works as it should barring the social media buttons, which are what I’m blocking the trackers from so this is all as it should be.

Logging in is fine, takes me to my profile page, which although isn’t where I thought it would take me makes sense now I think about it. The problem comes when I go to the main site to ‘Discover’ some new work. I can search and I can favourite images for later review but I can’t get back to my profile to see them. The Icon to get to my profile is blocked.


Turn off Ghostery and refresh the page and everything returns to normal.

I’ve actually figured it out as I’ve been writing this that it’s all working exactly as it should. There is no bug. Ghostery is blocking Gravatar which you are using for the profile images (which should have been obvious since you sign up via email and not social network) and the lack of image is giving you no hover trigger to get at the menu. Enable Gravatar and it all works after a CTRL + F5 server refresh. A normal refresh just brings you the menu with no image.

So yeah… Sorry about that. Seems it’s not a bug at all so much as a an unexpected confluence of features.


Oldham used to make a lot of things. We were at one time famous as a global leader in cotton manufacture, there were mills everywhere, and the whole town still shows it’s roots as the industrial powerhouse it once was. We were the home of the tubular bandage, the process was invented right here. Parts for some of the first ever computers were made in this town. The British aerospace industry was a major player in the towns economy. We did engineering on a massive scale and we were damn good at it too.

It would be wrong to say that things haven’t changed over the years.

Heavy engineering in this country isn’t what it once was, nor is large scale manufacturing, but we still produce things. We build things still.

So, onto my idea.

If the companies of Oldham who still build things get together and promote themselves and each other I think we could all do well out of it. Raise the profile. Twitter is a good way to do this. The hashtag #OldhamHour reaches 100’s of thousands of people a week, every week between 9pm and 10pm on a Monday. It’s a great idea and many businesses benefit from it. I suggest another hashtag. #BuiltInOldham.

I suggest we use it to show off what we make now. The architects, product designers, web designers, makers, manufacturers could all use the tag to promote their work. Share it round and who knows how far it could reach. Use it to find companies who are based in the town that provide a service you need and consider giving your work to them. It’s just an idea. Let me know what you think in the comments. So far I’ve started the hashtag (via @vintageboffin) and I’ll be starting a list to go with it of all the companies that use it. Lets see how it goes.

How to do stuff in WordPress when you don’t know how to do stuff in WordPress.

It’s a common thing. Many people want to set up a website of their own for a blog or a small business and can’t afford to hire a freelancer or agency to do it for them, so they read up a bit and ask around their friends and land with WordPress.

It’s fair enough, it powers (currently) 25% of all new sites on the internet, including this one, and 30% of ALL online eCommerce sites run WooCommerce on WordPress. And as the BBC would point out, other eCommerce systems are available. Which means that WordPress powers MORE than 30% of all the eCommerce sites online. Shopping is a long way from blogging.

It’s pretty simple to get to grips with. If you have used a word processor to write a document before you are already half way to being able to use a basic WP install. It’s all about the writing after all. But there are other things you can do. Millions of them. This is where it all falls down. WordPress as a tool is both simple and complex at the same time. Like a Swiss army knife with a million attachments that only shows you the first six until you need to get something out of a horses foot.

Want to run a blog? Simple. Run it out of the box with the default theme of the year. There you go, done.

Want to put your shop online? Refer to paragraph 2.

But what do you do when you get stuck?

There are plenty of tutorial sites on the internet and as usual Google is your frenemy. Type your problem and watch a thousand answers to your question appear. You, of course, being new to the whole game have no idea which if any are right so stick with me and I’ll tell you.

Number one choice is any link that leads to Stack Overflow. All of life’s programming questions are answered there.

Number two is any link that leads to CSS Tricks. If the problem you have is in the way your chosen theme looks or behaves then here is where to start. It has a WP specific section full of helpful snippets of code too.

Number three, which before anyone starts I agree could easily be number one is http://codex.wordpress.org/. This is aimed more at the technically minded user I think, and in my experience isn’t always the easiest explanation of a thing. On the other hand it will teach you everything you could ever need to know if you just look hard enough.

Smashing Magazine, Lynda.com and Sitepoint are also good places to look to help you get started with tutorials.

Anyway… The point.

As part of my ongoing and yet, usually, failing mission to write more I’ve decided to write some simple tutorials myself. And believe me they will be simple. I get asked regularly by beginners how to do what I may think, and I’m not an expert by far, are the simplest things. They’re only simple if you know how to do it though. So instead of answering the same questions over again I’m going to answer them here in their own special section of a site nobody visits. If this site is basically my shed, I’ll leave the tutorials on the WordPress shelf over there on the left. If you want to ask me a question tweet me with the hashtag #WPshelf and we’ll see what happens.

Vintage Boffin HQ

It’s taken a while but Vintage Boffin HQ is ready. Which basically means I did up my office so I can work again. We had a few plumbing issues over the summer and my home office was ruined. Damp everywhere, needed totally redecorating, basically a mess. I’ve done not one stitch of work that didn’t involve a pen and a notebook since about May. The upside of this is that now I have a plan of how to build Vintage Boffin that hopefully should be far reaching enough to make the act of actually building it simple.

The Plan

Vintage Boffin is going to be built on WordPress using the WooCommerce framework. Some people have suggested to me that this isn’t the best idea I ever had but http://www.woothemes.com/2014/02/monitoring-woocommerce-growth/ says different. WooCommerce now powers over 10% of all online shopping. That’s impressive.

I’m using a few of their plugins too. One to turn it into the multi store marketplace it needs to be and another Paypal integration that allows me to automatically deal with taking commissions and dishing out the right amounts of money.

Social media is in place with @vintageboffin existing on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and even Ello. In another post I will rant about the reasons Facebook don’t make that list. Most of this is powered by Buffer with some stuff posted through Klout as part of my ongoing quest to find out what the point of it is. Email is of course handled by Mailchimp.

Communication will mainly be done through Slack with Asana handling project management duty and Mailbird handling the much hated email. A new program I found for distraction free word processing called Write is also being much used at the moment too. So far it’s good enough that I haven’t installed Office on my new laptop. I’ll be writing product reviews of most of these things later. You don’t have to read them, I’m just trying to get into the habit of writing more since it’s been a while.

Next week I’ll be sending the first email out to the subscribers I have on the mailing list so far. I think we’re up to about 80 interested parties at this point which although that’s a small number in the grand scheme of things is a number I can deal with right now. I want to make the early stages a personal experience with the users. One of the first things will be a survey to find out what features can be considered to constitute Minimum Viable Product since I don’t want to be spending a year building Amazon for eleven users. That is on the cards for Wednesday next week. I tell you this so you can call me out when it doesn’t happen.

Anyhow… Back to it.

So… this happened.

Now I admit I was in the process of rebuilding, fixing and generally messing around with my site but still, carelessness costs. Anyway, an hour or so later I’m back but the whole thing is now in bits.

Now I’ve been having a rethink recently about what I’ve been doing with this site. The portfolio was never presented the way I wanted it to be, it wasn’t doing it’s job of getting me work, and I’m not much of a blogger (writer in general) so that wasn’t really serving a purpose either.

So I decided to get rid of the portfolio, not use the site to get clients, and write more. I’ve got a big list of projects on the go and a bigger list of things I’ve been meaning to rant write about so it’s about time I did.

I’m going to try to be less lazy I suppose. In my next post I’ll explain why I was installing analytics and whether I ever get them working. Otherwise It’s all just such a waste.