A decade later…

10 years is a long time, especially for a young person. In my case, 10 years is 40% of my life.
Let’s stand back and think about that for a moment – for 40% of my life I have been keeping a record of my thoughts, feelings and inner-goings on. This would be quite an achievement, if I had managed to do it properly, which unfortunately I have not.

There have been quite a few lapses, where posts were few and far between for one reason or another. Sometimes I find it hard to think of anything to write, I’m not a professional writer so I’m not always fully engaged. I also have mental health issues which have not been discussed here yet, but which one day soon I plan to. Also, in the past two years my life has been in a state of upheaval, both the personal and professional aspects – both things which would probably have made quite interesting blog posts but were hindered by time and motivational constraints. Retrospective posts could be a possibility though.

A short history

[The headmaster] didn’t see the funny side to the “List of Alcoholic Teachers” section that we did…

My career of posting random thoughts to the internet started in 1997. I had some free webspace from my ISP, Freeserve and took the opportunity to get to grips with web programming and set about learning HTML, I was 13 at the time. Once I had a site designed I had to decide what exactly I was going to populate it with and thought that it would be a good idea to use it to keep my school friends up-to-date and entertained, dropping in the odd anecdote about a teacher or put into writing the details of whatever funny rumour was currently doing the rounds at school.

In 1998 I bought my first domain, my internet “handle” at the time was “Toasty” so this became my domain, Toasty.co.uk. I have the HTML somewhere on my hard-drive – I’ll dig it out and tweet it at some point, we can all have a laugh then at the horrible orange and green colour-scheme.
I wasn’t using a CMS – as they largely didn’t exist at this point, so updating was a chore – manually writing code with text blocks was time-consuming.

In 1999 I made the dumb move of buying another domain and attempting to expand the “school news” section of the site into its own entity, at www.willows-high.co.uk (the name of my school). I received a telephone call during a half-term from the school head teacher, Mal Davies, he threatened to expel me from the school if I did not take the site down – of course I did so immediately, I didn’t want my parents getting wind of our escapades.
He didn’t see the funny side to the “List of Alcoholic Teachers” section that we did, and neither did the named teachers I bet.

At this point the site was still all about me, it was more of a diary than a blog, the term “blog” hadn’t even been coined yet, that was still a year or so off, in the heady days of the dot-com boom and bust.
In the meantime I decided to become a rocker and setup a new website at Mosha.co.uk. This was by far my most popular website – it dealt with biographies of the hottest nu-metal, punk, heavy metal and goth bands, a trend that was very popular at the time.  This helped me to hone my writing skills, keeping the biographies free of personal influence and on-topic.

In 2000 Toasty.co.uk became Cheesetoasted.com. This incarnation of the website would last for two years before the name was dropped altogether. IRC was dead and so was my “handle”, gone to the depths of internet history, I was now just “Nathan Collins”.

It was in 2001 that an application called Movable Type came onto the market – a free to download and install “blogging platform”, it allowed posts to be made to your website with the greatest of ease. This was a massive turning point, I was now able to update frequently and keep a database backup of everything – no longer was everything hard-coded in HTML, I consider this to be the real birth of the blog.

It was another two years before Hintofsarcasm.com was born. It was created out of necessity, a few different reasons, 1) cheesetoasted.com was up for renewal, 2) the name hadn’t really grown on me, 3) the great server crash of February 2003, where my hosts server failed and everything was lost.

I was devastated, I had put all of my eggs into one basket and everything had gone wrong. All of the websites that I had created from 1997 to 2003 were on that server and it failed, hard-disc corruption, and there was no backup. I had some copies locally on my computer, but the backups weren’t extensive, a lot of the older websites were gone forever.

I took this as a chance to reinvent myself, the weird days in 1998-1999 when kids from other schools would recognise me on the streets of Cardiff and say “Hi” were over and I was now out of school and working a full-time job – this is where things changed and I actually started “blogging” in its truest form, writing pieces akin to articles or columns in a newspaper, topical and opinionated. And that’s what we see today, a body of work, both good and bad, that has been built up over the past 10 years.

“But that’s 13 years”, I hear you cry. I don’t consider any of the writing that I did pre-2000 to be counted towards my “body of work”, it was all teenage diary writing. In fact, I’m not even that impressed with anything from 2000 to 2005 if I’m totally honest, and after that it’s wishy-washy at best, but still – as I’ve said previously, I’m not a professional writer and I don’t pretend to be. It’s a hobby, it’s not even meant to be for people to read really, it’s more for me to look back on, to help me to recollect my moods and thoughts at any given time, something that I find hard to do otherwise.

So, here’s to another 10 years.

Overlooking Colin’s books

I will have lived in Cardiff city centre for two years next month and it’s safe for me to say that I have enjoyed almost every minute of it.

I realised it was time to get a place of my very own after house-sharing for a while, I knew it had to be somewhere central for several reasons (but mainly because I do not want to have to own a car or learn to drive).

So, while you’re parking your cars on your driveways and entering your houses through white UPVC doors, I enter mine through a relatively artless grey door opposite Dorothy’s fish shop on the eponymous “Chippy Lane”, furtively tapping in the code in case anyone is watching.

Living so centrally comes with its upsides. It’s close to most of the best restaurants in Cardiff, with establishments such as La Brasserie on the same block and Yo! Sushi just around the corner and if ever I feel like catching a movie I am never more than 2 minutes walking distance from two of the largest cinemas in the city.

From the privacy of my balcony I have seen the St David’s 2 shopping centre, John Lewis and the new Cardiff Central Library rise from the ground. I have seen Welsh rugby players viciously assaulted after a night on the booze and witnessed enough alcohol fuelled altercations to quell any desire I might have had to watch a round of boxing again. I have been awoken on a Saturday morning by choruses of hooters and singing fans during the dozens of match days that have passed by during my tenure; an atmosphere that can easily be likened to the tangible buzz experienced by ordinary people in ordinary streets on VE Day, 1945.

I have witnessed (and documented) businesses coming and going, such as the ill-fated Fab Mash and the excellent Wok to Walk. I was invited by Apple to be inside at the opening of St David’s 2 and have eaten and drank at nearly every single restaurant, pub and bar in the CF10 postcode area. I’ve had it good and I’ve made the most of it.

The problems which naturally go hand in hand with residing in such a high profile area are fairly self-evident. Drunken party people shouting and screaming until at least 5am every morning (if not later) and piles of polystyrene trays adorning what is my “front garden” every match day being just two examples.

I have consciously attempted to make living in this area as safe and serene as possible for everyone who has chosen to try it out by setting up a residents committee. I try to encourage this committee to meet as often as possible; the only problem is that most tenants rarely stay as long as me. They seem easily scared away by the noise and characters of the night-time.

Stepping off of the street, in through the door and up into a lift does sometimes seem like entering Narnia – especially if you do it at 1am on a Saturday morning. Up here I have a new (built in 2003) apartment with a modern kitchen, two bedrooms, two bathrooms – all the mod-cons, a far cry from the battered sausages and rissoles down there.

Once you close the double-glazed doors, draw the curtains and sit down in front of the telly you could be in any suburb, anywhere. Soundproofing is clearly a matter that the original builders didn’t skimp on and for that I am grateful.

There have been annoyances and frustrations (as you would expect) since the area has been a massive building site for at least the last five years;  like road closures and dug up streets as the works went on to spruce up St Mary Street, meaning that I never knew if my Sainsbury’s delivery driver could get to me or not.

But, with this I have witnessed the capital grow and many changes for the better have come of it. St Mary Street now looks much better. The partial pedestrianisation has worked out well and from what I hear is to be completed later this year.

Trade is now flourishing in the nearby arcades and St David’s 2 is welcoming millions of visitors, shoppers and eaters. A world away from the throng of temporary fences, hard hats and cranes that comprised it just 6 months ago.

Cardiff is coming of age. Amenities are being added all the time that make it viable to make a home here, like the opening of Tesco and Sainsbury’s on St Mary Street, both of which close at 11pm.

A year ago I was cooking a chilli and realised that I did not have an onion. It was 9pm and I walked the streets trying to find one, with no luck. There was nowhere to buy regular groceries; M&S on Queen Street closes at 6pm and Sainsbury’s 8pm. I would have had to walk to Grangetown or Cathays had I not had the bright idea to ask a kindly chip-shop owner at The Red Onion (yes, really) if I could buy one from him. I explained my dilemma and he gave it to me, refusing to accept any money. Now that’s community spirit!

Living in Cardiff city centre could, I suppose, be likened to Manhattan living, but on a smaller scale and without the glitz and glamour of Broadway (although we do have St David’s Hall and the New Theatre).

Now that there is a little one on the way it is time to leave this all behind.

I will be sad to leave.

Paternal instincts

When I first found out that Misia and I were going to have a baby I was apprehensive. In a 24-hour period I went through every single emotion there is.

First I was scared and after that I became slightly angry, some items may have been thrown around the living-room. Then I was doubtful, could I do a good job? Sleepiness came next and then finally I was excited, though the last one took about 72-hours to come about, if I’m totally honest.

We announced it this morning to the world after taking a few days to let family and close friends know. They have all been very supportive and have bestowed wisdom upon me that only family and people who are already parents can. It’s going to be a roller-coaster few months, and years, this is for sure, but I’m sure it will make me into a better, stronger and more mature person.

We only have 6 months left to plan because Misia is 3 months along already. Everything and everyone is healthy thus far and I’ll be posting scan pictures and the like in due course.

For everyone who has been around since I started blogging back in 2000, and I know there are a few of you, I thank you for being here, you really are seeing my life pan out in real-time, aren’t you? I first posted as a spotty 15-year old in high-school (these posts were lost in the great database crash of 2003, unfortunately), almost completely unaware of what he wanted to do and now we’re 10 years on…

I will do an anniversary post in June, 10 years to the month that I started blogging. Oh, and I promise to be here more, and this is one promise I will keep this time. I have to stop being a flake.

To inifinity and beyond…

I quit my job today.
No, it’s not quite as bad as it sounds. I have given 6 weeks notice, intend to part on good terms and I have a long term plan. I just thought that I would start out this post with a rather sensationalist line. A hook, if you will.

I’ve been working at the bank for a long time. I’m only 24 years old, though I always knew that I wanted to work in IT. I joined the bank for that reason, and I accomplished it. In that time I’ve managed to do some exciting things. Some boring things. But above all get real experience in the field. I had previously worked for NTL, providing technical support for their internet customers, this is where I first dipped my toes, professionally. Of course, I have been designing websites since 1997 and I started to learn my first programming language at the tender age of 6 (BASIC on the Commodore 64).

I leave my position on the 1st of May with no job to go to. Not at another company, at least.
In the past 9 months I have been dabbling with freelance work. After doing some unpaid work to bulk up my portfolio and some favours for friends of friends and with other contracts now in the pipeline and ready to go, I decided that I want this to be my new career goal. To become a self-employed, or freelance, web application programmer.

In the next 6 weeks I will be launching at least two separate ventures.

Pixelfreedom banner

The first, which will be my primary business, is web design and programming under the moniker ‘Pixelfreedom‘.
I created Pixelfreedom almost 8 years ago as a base for my photography portfolio. I still think this is a good name for a creative organisation.
Under this banner I will provide services to clients to provide a solution to the technicalities of their desired websites.
In layman’s terms, this means the clever stuff that goes on the in the background. Making a website ‘interactive’, being able to sign up, log in, upload your photo, add products to your basket, checkout and pay. All of the kind of stuff that you probably take for granted when using social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. This kind of thing takes many man hours and a lot of code in the background to achieve.
Along with this, as you would probably expect, is the part where the site is made pretty and functional at the front-end, for the user. This will also be something that I will be offering as a product of my labour.

The second venture will be provided under my own name, Nathan Collins, which will run from one of my other websites, ‘nate.me.uk‘. For this I will use my considerable knowledge, expertise and experience in the field of online marketing, advertising and social networking to consult companies on their brands use of these tools.
This means advising clients on the best use of Google Adwords, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other means of conducting ‘viral’ advertising, and running the campaigns, which can be so very effective if used in the correct way.

The next few months will be a roller-coaster ride for me. I have been in full-time employment continuously since leaving college aged 18. I have learned many skills along the way and continue to learn new things every single day of my life, which is something that I relish continuing to do, as no doubt I will, especially considering the line of work that I am in where knowledge is most definitely infinite.

Now that the biggest step has been taken I will be carrying on at this momentum. Next week I am having my business cards printed up and will be filing forms to register myself as self-employed.

I hope you all wish me luck, continue to read hintofsarcasm while I go through this big transitional period and of course recommend my services to anyone that you come across that may require them :)

How the weak pound actually benefits me

With everything about the economy being as dire as it is now it is infrequent that good news comes out where money is involved, so when it does I feel compelled to document it.

The pound is currently very weak against the dollar. This must be bad, you would think from the phrasing. Weak is generally perceived to mean not good, but it can be beneficial. If you are selling goods or services in USD then you will receive more GBP for your dollar.

In June of this year you would get £1 for every $2. Today you will get £1 for every $1.50. So, if I was to receive $200 from a client and convert it to pounds, in June I would have received £100 but now I will get £133.

This is particularly important for me as I do freelance programming and a lot of my work comes from across the pond in the United States. Paypal does the converting from dollars to pounds and with it being as it is right now, I am earning approximately 1/3 more than I was 6 months ago.

Of course, it’s the total reverse if you’re converting your money from pounds to dollars. You will be spending 1/3 more than you would have 6 months ago. $200 spending money for a trip to the USA will now cost you £133 whereas 6 months ago it would have only been £100 and of course buying goods in dollars will also be more costly, this will affect businesses who buy stock from the United States.