Explained: how the hell do I *really* learn Ruby on Rails?

I own several books on Rails, all of them very well written and pleasant to read. But there’s a big difference between reading a book and knowing & learning a platform. You have to code in that platform, you have to first build something trivial, and then build at least one thing that’s non-trivial. Only then do you start to become intimately familiar with a platform’s conventions, the APIs and its general approach to problem solving.

With that in mind, I present a basic guide to how I learnt Ruby on Rails at a steady pace and without feeling overwhelmed by its enormity. Continue reading

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Warning: iPhone 3G should only be purchased by idiots

The buzz around the iPhone 3G launch caused a lot of excitement, plenty of crashed servers, and some very unusual queuing. Despite that, iPhones were still fairly easy to buy within the first week of the phone’s launch. As a small business owner and avid technologist, I couldn’t resist. Perhaps I should have.

Here are my five killer reasons why the iPhone 3G sucks. Continue reading

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Y Combinator: Startup Ideas We’d Like to Fund

Anyone struggling to come up with “an idea” for a new techie startup could do a lot worse than checking out this latest article by Paul Graham entitled “Y Combinator: Startup Ideas We’d Like to Fund“.

Paul lists thirty different ways of thinking about start-up opportunities. I was relieved (and spurred on by the fact) that my own in-development project fits into at least one of the categories!

I was also pleased to see that most of the focus isn’t on blue-sky wacky concepts. It’s a much better idea to build and sell things that attack existing well-known problems or solutions by doing something subtley different or simply better.

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Stay legal and pay yourself with PAYE in the UK; (Part 2)

[Note:- this article was originally scheduled for appearance in April but unfortunately time constraints delayed it until after the 2008 end-of-year filing deadline. I’ve published it now in the hope that it will show potential company-founders how easy it is to stay on top of such things].

At the end of the tax year, (ie. 5th April), you must file a return that tells HMRC the breakdown of the income tax and NIC payments you have made throughout the previous year. HMRC need this information because tax and NI deductions are paid to them monthly throughout the year without any additional details about the breakdown. (See part 1 of this article for more information). Continue reading

Posted in HOW-TOs, Starting up | 2 Comments

The best bits from BStartup 2008 (Friday)

Business Startup 2008Apart from my initial earlier thoughts on I encountered at the conference, BStartup 2008 (at the London ExCeL centre) was a good experience. For brevity, I’ve summarized a few of the most relevant and interesting people and services, below. Continue reading

Posted in Events, Starting up | 1 Comment

One thing is definitely still missing

When I read Ryan Carson’s post about the UK having everything it needs to foster new businesses, especially those that are web or technology-based, I was in full agreement. However, having made the trek from Cambridge to the docklands area of London today, I can state that there is one thing that is sorely missing (and has been for several years): easily accessible wi-fi that doesn’t cost the earth.
A quick overview of my day:

  • Cambridge train station – no wifi
  • 1 hour train journey to London – no wifi
  • ExCeL public concourse area – no free wifi
  • ExCeL exhibition hall – no free wifi
  • London King’s Cross train station – no wifi (I’m not a first class customer)

To summarize, I had no way to access the Internet on my laptop without handing over a hefty monthly subscription to one (or more!) providers. All I needed was enough access to check my email and post some content to my website, and I only need it 2 or 3 times a year (for conferences). But it wasn’t to be. The ExCeL centre own provided wi-fi actually requires that you call a sales hotline – not very useful when you’re trying to post notes during a talk!

Exactly how are we meant to be taken seriously as a country that wants great technology companies to thrive when a startup founder can’t even check his email at a startup conference? Of all places, you’d think that a huge conference centre in the capital city might be a place that you’d find free Internet access, especially when the entire conference is designed to help foster early-stage businesses whose ability to trade can often be dependent upon their online activities.

While it’s easy to level criticism squarely at the BStartup organizers, it’s my experience that over-charging for wireless network access is a scourge that is completely endemic in this country and something needs to be done about it.

NB:- I should add that at FOWA last year, superb wi-fi access was provided for the full duration of the conference. Maybe the BStartup organizers need to have a word with Ryan and his team.

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Announcing a brand new virtual community for Cambridge’s web professionals

I’m pleased to announce the official launch of the Cambridge Web Heads social network.

Cambridge Web Heads is a new virtual community for web designers, developers and entrepreneurs in Cambridgeshire area of the UK.

As well as forum discussions, it’s a place to learn new skills and share your professional experiences of working with the web. With the profile features and personal blogging capabilities, it’s easy to network and exchange ideas with local professionals.

See you in the forums!

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Business Startup 2008 in London

I’m going to be in London on April 25th, attending Business Startup 2008. I’m not sure how web or technology oriented it’s likely to be, but the programme looks like it has plenty of interesting talks.

If anyone reading the blog is heading there, post a comment here or send me an email; it’ll be good to say hi and talk about any ways we can work together.

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Stay legal and pay yourself with PAYE in the UK (Part 1)

Once you’ve started your own limited company and people are paying for your products or services, you may want to start taking a salary.

This is a good idea for several reasons:

  1. It’s the main way to legally move money from your business bank account to your personal bank account
  2. It ensures you continue to pay National Insurance contributions, (essential if you expect a government pension later in life)
  3. You pay tax to the government, thus preventing them from breaking down your door and demanding your money!
  4. It gives you some money to live off

This article is designed to take a lot of the jargon away from paying yourself. Continue reading

Posted in HOW-TOs, Starting up | 3 Comments

Jack and the (subversion controlled) Beanstalk

As a developer, have you ever wanted to banish your fears of hard disk failure and stupid mistakes in one easy step? Did you ever consider that using a hosted version control system could do just that? It’s long been established that using a version control system is A Good Thing for software quality and developer productivity. Joel on Software goes as far as claiming it as the very first step on the path to writing good code. Continue reading

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