In the future, if you want a job, you must be as unlike a machine as possible: creative, critical and socially skilled. So why are children being taught to behave like machines?

Every line of code has some probability of having an undetected flaw that will be seen in production. Process can affect that probability, but it cannot make it zero. Large diffs contain many lines, and therefore have a high probability of breaking when given real data and real traffic.

Welcome to fast.ai’s 7 week course, Practical Deep Learning For Coders, Part 1, taught by Jeremy Howard (Kaggle’s #1 competitor 2 years running, and founder of Enlitic). Learn how to build state of the art models without needing graduate-level math—but also without dumbing anything down. Oh and one other thing… it’s totally free!

I’ve recently published my first novel The Golden Legacy on Kindle and paperback through Amazon, achieving very professional results. Along the way, I created a process and a couple of tools based exclusively on open source software. Here’s my process.

Today — January 1, 2017 — my project Aphorisms Galore! is twenty years old (which I celebrated by launching a bunch of improvements). Not bad for a site that was started on a whim and that has never had a business plan. Actually, it has never really had a plan of any kind whatsoever. But over the years, it has taught me a lot about how to drive traffic to a site, how to do business on the web, how to develop and maintain a codebase over many years, and many other things.

People are always telling me that storytelling is important and that every brand needs a story. So here, then, is the story of Aphorisms Galore!, as best I remember it, along with some lessons I learned along the way.

Traffic Growth and Monetization

On New Year’s Day 1997, I uploaded a bunch of static files to my free web hosting account at Passagen. I had used a simple Perl script and a few templates to create the files from a collection of aphorisms that I had organized into categories like Success and Failure and Science and Religion.

And the story could easily have ended there, with just yet another lame personal web project, but somehow the idea came to me that I wanted to see how many visitors I could attract to my site without shelling out any actual money. This, of course, was before Twitter, before Facebook, even before Google. So I started experimenting with link exchanges, web rings, Usenet posts (no spam, of course, but there were groups that specifically welcomed such announcements) and whatever else I could think of that wouldn’t cost me any money. Any numbers I may have had have been lost in the mists of time, but traffic grew quickly (well, for a lame personal web project) and people started contacting me with corrections and submissions. This was a lot of fun but also meant that keeping all those static pages updated was becoming a problem.

Encouraged by people’s interest in my little project, I registered the AphorismsGalore.com domain name and bought a cheap hosting package that would let me use fancy things like CGI scripts to generate pages on the fly instead of all at once. I was now also able to experiment with advertising, which was a lot of fun but never really generated any significant revenue — even in those days, when people still actually clicked on ads from time to time.

Lesson learned: Network advertising is useless unless you have hundreds of thousands of visitors per month, and probably even then. If you’re planning on sustaining your site on ads alone, you’re probably better off handling them yourself. (As a side income, network ads might be fine, though.)

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Aphorisms Galore! in May 1998, according to the Internet Archive.

Personalization and Subscriptions

I also thought it would be fun to allow people to sign up to have an “Aphorism of the Day” delivered to them by email so I built an “Aphorisms Galore! Personal” section in which users could create profiles with their preferences. Believing that everyone was already getting too much email and wouldn’t want an aphorism every single day, I also included options for an “Aphorism of the Week” and for “Aphorisms Galore! News” (i.e., blog updates). As it turned out, though, a large majority of those who signed up wanted daily emails, and this is true to this day. I pretty quickly gained a couple of thousand email subscribers and this number has remained more or less constant ever since (though it hasn’t necessarily been the same couple of thousand people). It is of course still possible to sign up for these subscriptions, but the page is now simply called Settings.

Lesson learned: People seem to be perfectly ready to sign up for email subscriptions, at least when there is some small perceived value (in my case, a daily aphorism for free).

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Aphorisms Galore! 2.0, May 2001.

Sending out thousands of email messages per day, every day, wasn’t, and isn’t, entirely trivial. The 800-pound gorillas (Google, Yahoo, Microsoft/Outlook/Hotmail, and perhaps a couple more) are fickle and can at any time label you a spammer even though you’re not. I’ve had very few such problems, though, compared to horror stories I have heard. There were and are companies that offer sending email in bulk as a paid service but I wanted to learn as much as possible by doing it myself.

Lesson learned: Contrary to what some people will tell you, it is still entirely possible to run your own mail server, even if you send out large(ish) volumes of automated messages. Just be sure to have your reverse DNS, SPF records and DKIM signatures in order and you should be fine. At least if you pick a reputable service provider; if you get assigned an IP that has been blacklisted, you’re likely to have a bad time.

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Aphorisms Galore! 3.0, October 2009.

Automation

Aphorisms Galore! is and has always been a hobby project. This and my shifting interests over time have sometimes meant long periods of few or no updates. I have tried to address this with automation, since something is more likely to get done if it involves one manual step or two or three than if it requires fifteen. Also, manually performing recurring tasks can be mind-numbingly boring, but writing scripts to automate those same tasks can be quite interesting (well, at least if you’re weird like me). For some time now, I have had a complete continuous delivery pipeline set up, so I only need to make a change and push it, and everything gets automatically tested and deployed.

Lesson learned: Automating as much as possible is an upfront investment that really pays off in the medium to long term. I sometimes refer to Aphorisms Galore! as “the most neglected site on the Internet”; this is part joke and part truth, but automation is helping me come to grips with that. Slowly.

Motivation

Having a little side project like this has helped me get better at what I do in many ways. I have often built toy versions of everything from tiny site features to entire continuous delivery pipelines before building similar things for paying clients (for my day job, I’m an IT consultant helping organizations deliver more and better software), and I believe the end results have often been better for it. The site has also provided me with a creative outlet, stimulated me intellectually and put me in contact with a few aphorists, authors, business persons and other awesome people. Not all hobbies can be said to do all that. Besides, the site has lots of room for improvement and I’m the first to say so, but even if you think it’s crap, at least it’s my crap.

Lesson learned: Unexpected benefits come to those who turn their weird ideas into projects and stubbornly keep working on them.

Merry out of focus Christmas to all! (at Stortorget)

at Riksbron

Photoset

wastholm.tumblr.com/post/154338441892, posted 11 Dec by peter

My pool buddy. (at Lopesan Costa Meloneras Resort Spa & Casino ****+)

at Anfi Del Mar Grand Canaria

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