Practice Typing by Rewriting Classic Literature

I’ve always heard stories of great authors learning to write by typing out word for wod the classics. It’s like learning to code by reverse engineering your favorite framework or package, and figuring out exactly what they did to make it work.

A new site recently launched that allows you to retype classic novels right from your browser.

It’s a fun little web app, and if you’ve wanted to improve your typing or writing it could be good to spend a little time trying this out.

NYT: The Whistle-Blower Knows How to Write

Jane Rosenzweig writing in the New York Times about how well written the whistleblower report is:

Every semester, I encounter students who tell me variously that they hate writing, that they’d rather not write, that for the careers they aspire to they won’t need to write. I explain that no matter what careers they choose, they will have to write — reports, strategic plans, proposals and, if nothing else, many, many emails.

But I also tell them that learning to write matters because some day they may have something to say that really matters to them and possibly to the world — and they will want to convey it when the moment arrives in writing that’s clear and concise.

I really wished I would have paid more attention to writing in school. I was a spitting image of a student she describes and I never could understand why I would need to write. Now, I write all the time and wished I would have paid attention in those classes and challenged myself.

If nothing else it’s a good reminder to myself that when kids say a class or a subject is worthless I can remind them that there are reasons for it, even if you don’t see them today.

It’s NaNoWriMo Time Again

It’s November which means it is time for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and it’s one of those projects I’ve never participated in, but it has always intrigued me.

The premise is you write a 50,000-word novel from November 1st to November 30. 1,667 words a day! That is insane to me because as I honestly struggle to write even just 1,000-word posts.

What is also great is that some people use this month to do other goals that are fairly related. I’ve seen some use the 50,000-word goal and use it to write blog posts during the month. Then others just try to blog every day no matter how many words.

This year I forgot it was coming so I haven’t planned anything but since I’m on a blogging kick I’m going to try to continue my everyday blogging. I will say coming up with content every day has been a struggle at times so I’m hoping I get some inspiration.

If there is anything you’d like me to cover let me know in the comments or shoot me an email. Anything from tutorials, to ideas, or anything that I have some knowledge on.

Good luck to all those participating!

Host your own content

On a typical day when I see a link to an article with Medium in the URL, I tend to skip it and think the reason for this is subconsciously I don’t like how hostile Medium has been.

A great example is this morning. I was checking my Twitter stream and seen someone I respect share a link to a Medium article. I read it, then went into the comments, and then went back to authors bio and thought I’d check out some of their other work. That’s when I got hit with this.

Does the author know Medium is doing this? Do they care? I have no idea but as a content creator, it offends me Medium would do this.

I know many people use Medium because it’s easier to gain readers but I’m not sure I believe that. Even today search engine traffic dwarfs social, so don’t let the focus on the short-term cloud your judgment.

You are free to put your content wherever you wish, but I’d recommend buying a domain and host it your self. Most of my readers are developers so this is easy for them, and those of you that aren’t you can buy a domain and use an existing paid service. WordPress, Squarespace, Ghost, etc.

All this mirrors what the news media is going through with Facebook. They’ve come to be so reliant on a service they don’t pay for and they don’t own. The old business adage fits perfectly here. Don’t build your business on someone else’s product.

My Annoyance with Themes

Late last year I switched this domain from self-hosted WordPress back to that way I didn’t have to deal with updates, running a server, paying for hosting, and everything else.

The ease of use is superb and having it as a SAAS is wonderful for me. I can just write and share things when the inspiration hits and I don’t have to worry about anything.

However, one of the downsides is the themes available on It currently shows 310 available and I’ve literally been through every single and not been happy with any and its always minor stuff.

For example, I found one that was perfect. It had a standard blog layout, my content looked great, but then it didn’t support featured images on the post details page. Then I’ll find an awesome grid theme, only to see my content look like crap in its demo. Then others where I think it’s going to work based on the theme screenshot only to find out it actually looks nothing like that.

Tonight I’ve spent so much time trying to find one that would work for me that I eventually just gave up and went back to twenty-fourteen.

I really do wish WordPress would normalize themes further or at least explain what is expected. Take the featured image. What is it for? Only for the archive lists, or for post details too? The answer seems to be whatever the theme designer decides. Another one is what is the home page? Some preview images show what I believe is a portfolio, but then when you try to just a standard blog home page it looks like crap.

Honestly, I think the crux of the issue for me is I want an old school simple blog where every theme now feels overly designed and the designers are expecting you to​ be able to add awesome images to every post.

Rands: How to Write a Blog Post

Rands on how to write a blog post

Randomly think of a thing. Let it bump around your head a bit. If the bumping gets too loud, start writing the words with the nearest writing device. See how far you get. The more words usually mean a higher degree of personal interest. Stop when it suits you.

Wait for time to pass and see if the bumping sound returns. Reread what you’ve written so far and find if it inspires you. Yes? Write as much as you can. No? Stop writing and wait for more bumping.

I can never wait for the second part, let time pass, reread, edit, and then publish. I’m more of a find inspiration, write it, and publish, all in one sitting. I know that’s bad but otherwise, ​I’ll never publish. It’ll sit in my drafts for years, collect dust, and then be forgotten.

This blog is a way I can do my current publishing style and not feel bad about. Hitting publish is all that matters. If something gets some traction I can always edit or refine later.

Beginning Blogger: Ignore your stats

I’ve had this site for many years and I’ve never really had a posting schedule. I would wait for inspiration to hit, write a post, hit publish and then get a little bummed out seeing that all the time I put in was only seen by 12 people. You would do well, especially in the beginning, to just ignore stats altogether​ and press on. Keep publishing, keep practicing, and little by little grow your audience.

By ignoring the stats it’ll keep your focus on what matters, the content, and not on doubting yourself. I know seeing thousands of people viewing an article is exciting, but at the start, ​you have the advantage of obscurity and can use that to hone your skills.

Really the only thing that matters is showing up, day after day after day, and pushing out your content, sharing your ideas, and making a community. If you can do it, it’s possible to make friends all over the world and honestly change your life.

Ulysses for iPhone is here

The Soulmen group today announced the official release of Ulysses for iPhone. Ulysses is a writing app for all your Apple devices and is my favorite one.

I took part in the beta of the iPhone release and I must say I’ve not really had any problems. Even from the early releases.

If you are looking for a professional writing app check out Ulysses Mobile

Should you disable comments on tutorials?

I received this question over email and I have to admit it’s a tricky one for me to answer. Before I get to the answer let me tell you about my outlook on comments and why I enable them here.

I allow comments because I love interacting with people without the 140 character restriction. Comments allow the conversation to continue and it’s nice to hear other points of view.

Continue reading “Should you disable comments on tutorials?”

Personal Websites

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Question of the day by Stephen Dubner and James Altucher. The show revolves around one single question and always has fun questions. Plus it’s short averaging around 15 minutes.

On this episode, they had a guest ask the question and it was, “Are personal websites still necessary?”. More specifically, if starting today would you create a personal website or use an existing hub like Medium?

Continue reading “Personal Websites”

2015 In Numbers

At the end of every year I like to look back and see what all I accomplished. Since almost everything I create and work on is online, generating stats and data is relatively easy. Plus many services are now sending “year in review” emails so it’s all automated. Here are some of this years numbers for Laravel News and this site.

Laravel News

Here is the break down for this year on Laravel News

  • 1.5 million views with the best day bringing in 27k.
  • 356 new posts, growing the total to 1,053 posts. Down from 679 last year.
  • Longest posting streak of 6 consecutive days. (I typically take the weekends off)
  • Most popular post was the Laravel 5 release announcement because it hit the front page of hacker news.
  • Top referring sites:,,, Thanks to all the others that linked to the site.
  • Most visitors came from The United States, United Kingdom, & India. 212 countries in all.
  • The Laravel newsletter grew from 3,260 subscribers to 11,650.

Eric Barnes (this site)

For this site which gets almost no love.

  • 230k views with the best day bringing 1,800. Last year total views was 50k.
  • 33 posts published bringing the total to 114.
  • Setting up Gulp, Bower, Bootstrap Sass, & FontAwesome was the most popular post and it wasn’t even published this year. Search engines still reign.
  • Most visitors came from The United States, United Kingdom, & India.

I don’t think there is anything to really learn from these numbers except to show up everyday and eventually something will hit.

Laravel and Stripe

Over the past few years, I’ve implemented Laravel and Stripe on multiple occasions. Everything from subscriptions to one-off purchases. When I started, Laravel Cashier wasn’t invented yet and it was a totally different beast, but now with Cashier it takes a lot of the pain away by having a simple API.

But with selling products and subscriptions there are many other aspects you need to think about and it’s easy to get intimidated thinking about all the features you need. Or worse, where to even start?

I wanted to share my knowledge on the subject and teamed up with an experienced author, W. Jason Gilmore, to create a new book on the subject, Easy E-Commerce using Laravel and Stripe. Jason has authored numerous books and has also built a 10,000+ product online store and a SAAS for the interior design and architectural industries.

We wanted to create a fun hands-on book taking you from the start of a project all the way through implementing product sales, digital downloads, and subscriptions.

The book is written around a fictional lawn care company that has hired you. But Mr. McDew, the owner of the company, is a stickler and wants to be sure you know what you are doing. So after each project phase he drills you with questions about the implementation, and if you answer correctly you get to move on to the next phase.

No web development book would be complete without sample code and we include many code samples, plus a complete companion project. This allows you to use it not only as a learning resource but you can run the app locally to test and play around with.

Some of the highlights include:

  • You will receive all of the source code to a real-world online store
  • Comprehensive, step-by-step instructions showing you how to integrate Stripe into your Laravel application using Cashier.
  • Learn how to integrate Stripe in a fun, entertaining, and unintimidating fashion by following along with the creation of a real-world project for a fictional company.
  • You’ll learn about many of the concepts central to building an online store, such as how to build a product management interface, and a one-time URL generator for downloading electronic products.

We also cover other Stripe features such as the “buy now” modal window, validating credit card forms, adding coupons and discounts, swapping subscriptions, and even implementing custom Stripe web hooks for sending emails.

Save yourself time and learn how to implement Laravel and Stripe today.

Lessons learned from running a weekly newsletter

Yesterday marks the one-year anniversary of my weekly Laravel News newsletter. I managed to send a new issue almost every week and only missed two because of vacations. I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, and still every week I’m learning something new about the science behind newsletters. In this post, I want to share some of the behind scenes on running the newsletter, a few stats, mistakes I made, and lessons learned during this first year. Continue reading “Lessons learned from running a weekly newsletter”

In the latest Five-Minute geek show, Matt covers his tips for writing technical blog posts quickly and easily.

I wrote a few of my own technical blog post tips but I like how he focuses on improving your speed. I’ve written more in the past year than I ever have in my life and I’m still slow. However, it is getting easier.

A tip that neither Matt nor I mentioned is, always remember you are the expert when writing about a technical topic. That doesn’t mean you have to dumb it down. Just pay attention to not miss any steps that you think everyone knows.

30 Day Blogging Challenge

Last month I took a 30 day blogging challenge. The goal was simple, write a new post every weekday for a month. Sounds easy right.

November had 20 weekdays and I managed to publish 16 posts. Which I honestly consider a success considering we had a holiday and I attended a conference. It’s the most posts in one month I’ve ever done on this site.

What I found most interesting is how much social media has taken over blogging. Instead of really thinking about an idea and putting into a long form post, I write quick 140 character summary and after 10 minutes it’s forever lost in the abyss.

Going forward from this I do want to get into a better blogging routine, not daily but at least two posts a week. I believe this will help me improve my writing and get better at writing longer form articles.

Have you ever tried a challenge like this? If so, what was your results? Would you be interested in doing it?

Ulysses III Themes

In my post yesterday about Ulysses III I posted a screenshot of my customized theme. Since then I’ve had a few requests for me to release the theme and I’m happy to oblige, you can now find the following two themes in their styles exchange.

Here they are in all their glory.

Peacock Ulysses III Theme

Peacock Ulysses III Theme
Peacock – Inspired by Dayle Rees

Simplex Ulysses III Theme

Simplex Ulysses III Theme
Simplex Theme

Most of my focus was on the dark styles but the beauty of Ulysses is that customizing them is super easy.

To get your theme to look just like mine I used the following Ulysses settings:

  • Font: Anonymous Pro
  • Line Height: 1.4
  • Paragraph Spacing: 0.2
  • First Line Indent: 0
  • Page Width: 70
  • Insertion Point: iOS

I hope you enjoy these and if you have any questions just ask in the comments below.

Ulysses III – An IDE for your writing

I’m fascinated by writing apps. So much in fact that I believe I have purchased every one that has ever been made. I’ve even tried using development apps like Sublime and PhpEdit but nothing ever felt just right. I can’t explain it but it was always some little issue that drove me crazy.

This all changed when I found an app called Ulysses III. At the core it’s a nice markdown writing app much like some of the others on the market. But that is where the similarities end. It is minimal yet extremely powerful.

What I enjoy most is the sidebar and the library of all your files, sheets as they call them. I’ve seen a few apps do this but something about having everything together in one app makes me feel good.

All files are backed up to iCloud and are available on the Mac and iOS via their free companion app Daedalus Touch. I do most of my writing on the Mac but having the iOS app is great for jotting down quick notes while on the go.

Where the app shines is in those little features that are out of the way unless you need them. They have mastered making a simple app.

A simple app isn’t simple by virtue of having fewer options, a simple app is simple because of usability. — Ben Brooks

From the folder level you can set goals, see statistics, and add custom/smart folders. These same things can be done on a sheet level, as well as custom tags.

The writing environment is also nice. It supports markdown with some added features such as comments, notes, and annotations. You can really do some series writing in it. In fact you can even split a sheet which would come in handy when writing your next novel.

The export is another great thing. You can export as markdown to your clipboard, send to marked app, export a PDF, email, or iBooks. They even have a styles exchange where you can install different themes for both exporting and the writing environment. Here is my current customized theme:


Along with all these it even has a quick open (command + o) which is similar to Sublimes command + p or PhpStorm’s recent files. Fully searchable.

Ulysses III is an IDE for all your writing.


So far I’ve only used it for blogging but I am planning on releasing the next volume of the Artisan Files e-book with it. I feel like with the export templates and the feature set it has, I can generate a nice looking e-book. Not only that but save me the headache of using iBooks. I never could fully figure that app out. 🙂

The only downside is the export doesn’t appear to support mobi files. I am hoping an app like Calibre can help here. Only time will tell.

I’m very pleased with this app and on my list it’s a must have.

Tips for Writing Technical Blog Posts

As a developer one of the best ways of giving back, beyond releasing code, is by writing about your experiences. Think about all the people you follow on social media. Chances are you follow the ones that are sharing knowledge and inspire you.

I love this part of the industry but a lot of times I see developers make common copywriting mistakes in their blog posts.

What good is a tutorial or article if it’s glanced over or never found?

In this post I’m going to outline some of the tips I’ve picked up and mistakes I’ve made in the past.

Article Structure

Your technical blog post needs structure. Two common methods are:

  • Introduction, body, and closing.
  • Pain, dream, fix (by Amy Hoy)

The first method is what a lot of technical articles use. It has a tendency to come out pretty dry and boring.

I like the second method better as it makes it easier for you to set up a story. The basics is to start your article by focusing on the pain or problem, then a dream of what you want to accomplish, and finally the actual fix or solution.

As a developer this is much of our entire day, so moving it into a story form is easy and should come naturally.

Article Title

Have you spent hours crafting a blog post, editing it, making sure its perfect, only to have it be a big flop? I have, numerous times and one of the common problems is the title. In fact much has been written about crafting the perfect title and it could be argued it’s the most important part of your article.

For us developers the best titles are those that other developers will be searching for. For example on my site “Switching to PhpStorm” and “Setting up Gulp, Bower, Bootstrap Sass, & FontAwesome” are my most popular posts. The only reason is because they appear in search engines.

Those two posts I threw together fairly quick and the ones I’ve spent the most time on hardly get any traffic.

Article Introduction

I touched on the introduction previously but it needs it’s own section. The introduction is the second most important part. This is where you inform readers on what to expect and set everything up.

I come across lots of articles where this is missing or just generic filler. It doesn’t draw me in and at that point I just scan the headings for sections that sound interesting.

Article Content

Including headings and scannable break points is another important feature. On the web readers quickly scan articles so you need a break to draw them into each section. Some examples are of course headings, blockquotes, lists, and images.

It’s also important to write clearly and keep your style consistent. In technical writing that means keeping your naming the same. A common example is writing the word JavaScript. Don’t mix between using js and JavaScript. Stick with one.

Another tip is to run your text through an app like hemingway. For web writing keep everything at a grade nine reading level or lower. Using small words helps readers where English isn’t their primary language, and makes your content more consumable.

Article Closing

In copywriting the closing is typically your call to action. Most developers aren’t selling anything so this is a great spot to ask for comments, connect via social media, or recap the article.

Wrap Up

I hope these tips on the structure, title, and content help you the next time you are writing a technical article. Now go and write about that problem you solved today. I’m sure it would be a benefit to others.

At the time of writing this, Node.js is now only 70.4% JavaScript. And not only does it now have C++ and its predecessor C (which is basically like running your app on 2 versions of Ruby, for you Ruby developers out there), but Node owners, Joyent, have also injected an unknown language called “Other,” threatening the maintainability by developers outside the company.

Jenn Schiffer is just brilliant!