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Erik Trautman

Technical entrepreneurship, business strategy and product development

Rebuilding Modern Wanderlust

The Old

Building modernwanderlust.com (my old blog site) was a fantastic starter project to break into web development. I basically followed a tutorial on Udemy that used an AMP (Apache/MySQL/PHP) stack and hacked, smashed and sweated my way to a working prototype over about a month during the summer of 2012.

And ever since it launched, I've been terrified to change anything. Think about the first thing you ever built... how robust and modular was your code? Yeah, this is probably worse. Couple that with the fact that all my focus has gone into learning Ruby and Rails (NOT PHP), and you can understand why I've had this thing in my sites for a major overhaul. Given my new Rails wizardry, it couldn't take more than 4 hours on a weekend, right?

Famous last words for a side project, of course... It's been several weekends spaced out over a couple months :)

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Site News: Disqus for Commenting

Greetings! I've finally done away with the bare-bones commenting interface I had out there before and replaced it with Disqus, something you've probably already seen in a hundred places across the web. The integration was very straightforward, basically just copy-pasting some javascript and tweaking some options. I hope you enjoy the added functionality and we really get the discussion going in the next few weeks.

Erik

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Beyond Version 1.0

Despite all the forward progress I've made so far, there are plenty of other items on my to-do list. One of the hardest parts of this blog project was actually to say, "screw it, just launch" despite all the little things I hate and immediately want to change about it. I assume much of the site will look pretty different as the weeks progress and I begin adding features and tweaking design elements.

The next steps will involve things both on the front end and behind the scenes. What you won't see are my attempts to improve security and search engine optimization or to provide RSS compatibility. I'll also be deploying Google Analytics and looking into other options to try and regain some of the valuable analytics information that Wordpress had been providing.

On the front end, my next project is to put together a way of tracking progress during my trip (I'm in the midst of a 12,000 mile motorcycle journey through the CONUS). A lot of people have asked me how to follow along and so I will be building the ability to track that and integrate it with the rest of the blog (pictures and posts). I will also set up Disqus to power my comments and will implement various social sharing widgets. Stay tuned.

My next set of explorations into more formal learning will be to dive back into Javascript and the JQuery libraries. I want to learn AJAX fundamentals and build some features with the new HTML5 and CSS3 toolkits. I expect these things to crop up in various ways over the next few months. I am also starting to poke my nose a bit more into mobile development and pull together specs for an app that I'd like to create. And, as always, there is Rails somewhere down the road"¦ is it worth diving into?

The more my toolkit grows, the more cool stuff I want to build and learn. This is fun.

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The Blog Has Finally Landed

I built this website myself. To all you designers and developers out there, that's hardly an accomplishment but for someone who had never heard of style sheets until a few months ago and hadn't seen an HTML tag since a high school 101 course, that feels pretty okay. From the day of my initial launch using Wordpress, I knew that I wanted to take control and eventually build the site from the bottom up. Today is version 1.0 of that vision.

I believe it's important to be a details person. When I tackle a problem, I want to know it from the bottom up. I want to know how every link in the chain is put together before I zoom out and start solving the overarching task. It doesn't mean that I need to drown in the minutia of things, but I'd like to be able to picture it in my head before manipulating it. Since I'm interested in putting together web-based products, it was a given that I'd need to build my own site.

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It's All About the Little Things

I've spent the past week or so more or less getting back into a coding routine. I've finally managed to bite off a good chunk of my blog project and I feel like I am hitting my stride with PHP and SQL after scratching my head and dealing with stupid errors for a frustrating couple of days. It feels really good to have momentum building again after all the moving and traveling.

The blog project (to produce the production version of this blog) comes both from a desire to have full creative control of my website and as a way to practice building a web application from the ground up. It's a front-to-back journey through creating something from nothing and it has been incredibly useful as a learning tool.

In order to really milk the experience for all the learning I can get, I am doing as much of it from scratch as possible. Often that is a license to take a few hours aside and learn a new skill or function because it came up in a YouTube video I was referencing or was mentioned in a Stack Overflow help article. Yesterday, though, that meant I spent the entire day working only on the code for pagination.

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Using a CSS Framework

Lately I've been focusing heavily on design and front-end development skills. I first read one of my new favorite textbooks in order to learn (x)HTML/CSS (it's called "Learning Web Design" by Jennifer Niederst Robbins) and it was a fantastic, though time consuming, introduction to those skills. I am currently focusing on building a base of JavaScript knowledge so I can begin making my pages dynamic. For that, I have been taking a web development course on Udemy.com which, to be honest, hasn't impressed me much so far. Contrary to my expectations, so far the good textbook is actually far ahead of the poor video course.

Building a blog is a classic programming project because it involves so many different types of coding to make the front and back ends function properly. As I mentioned before, despite this blog running live right now on Wordpress (where you are presumably reading it), my intention has always been to create an independent blog website as my first real project. At this point, I've got enough knowledge to begin the process.

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This Is Just A Crappy WordPress Site...

...For now. But I've got a vision of something much greater.

Originally, I wasn't going to release anything at all until I was fully ready to put out the Amazing Final Product Website. Reading more into the Lean Startup methodology, I've realized that I almost made a classic mistake in doing so. "Iterate early and often" is their mantra (paraphrasing), "Don't worry about not having a perfect product, you'll learn a lot more in putting out an early version and iterating than you would by trying to perfect something in a vacuum."

For starters, it wouldn't have made sense to post about my transition months after events had transpired (i.e. whenever I finally finished the site). By producing content and working with a live website (via WordPress), I'm already learning a lot of lessons that I wouldn't have by operating only in a test environment. Most importantly, by putting out this preliminary (crappy) version of the final product, I am able to document my journey towards that product and my trials along the way.

So what is the vision? From a design perspective, I am looking for a space to make my own. I want a place that is built around the written content but where I can showcase quirky design and photography as well. Being able to share my experience climbing the learning curve towards the requisite design and development skills is a significant bonus to launching early. As for what it will eventually look like"¦ you'll just have to stick around to find out.

The "Why" is maybe more interesting. I view putting out a polished and functional website as both a great exercise for skills development and as a showcase for those skills in action. It is the minimum viable product, alpha release or proof of concept that I can produce something in the Web world. The next step will be to produce something of actual value"¦

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