Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Book: The Principles of Successful Freelancing

The Principles of Successful Freelancing by Miles Burke
ISBN 978-0-98004552-4-6

The Principles of Successful Freelancing is a comprehensive introduction (if that's not a contradiction of terms) to striking out on your own as a freelancer. This book is perfect for someone who is considering moving to freelancing or possibly for someone just starting out.

Mr. Burke covers all of the basic areas of starting and running a freelance business. He discusses how to set up your business and your office, how to sell your services, how to manage your money, and how to give good customer service, which is ultimately the most important aspect of a personal freelancing business. He also addresses how to balance work and life beyond work, which is hard in general and specifically hard in a one-man shop. He concludes with something I haven't seen in a "start you own business" book - where to go next. Do you want to remain as a one-man shop, do you want to grow into a "real" business, or do you just want to "retreat" to the old 9-to-5 job? I don't recall a book like this consider the option of going back to the grind.

Each chapter concludes with two "case studies" - Emily and Jacob. These two characters represent two very different people who might want to go into freelancing. The studies at the end of each chapter explain how these personality types might react to the issues and challenges discussed in the chapter. This device helps the reader envision how he or she might deal with the issues discussed.

Early on, I got the mistaken impression that this book was a bit fluffy. The typography has a fair amount of white space, and it looks kinda arty rather than serious and dense. (OK, I grew up with punched cards and line printers. When's Matlock on?) But, by the time I finished the book, as I looked back across it, I really couldn't think of anything that wasn't covered. Sure, there are whole MBAs built around marketing, and this book only has one chapter on it, but the Mr. Burke provides a perfectly reasonable introduction to the subject. I think I got this "fluffy" mis-impression because immediately prior to reading Successful Freelancing I read Eric Sink's The Business of Software, which is very detailed about a few aspects specifically related to running a small software business. Successful Freelancing covers a wider range of topics, and it is not aimed specifically at software freelancers. If anything, it's aimed more at web designers who probably like nicer typography.

To conclude, The Principles of Successful Freelancing is a great first introduction to the idea of freelancing. It covers all the bases to help someone evaluate whether or not to go into business for himself.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Choosing Java Versions on Mac OS X

While debugging another manifestation of the "wrong library for groovy webtest" bug recently, I found an email thread that makes reference the java_home command (sadly, I can't find an online manual page to link to) to cleanly select a specific version of the JVM under OS X. Here I thought manually pawing through /System/Library/Frameworks to look for versions to set JAVA_HOME to was the "right" way to do it. Learn something new every day.


Friday, July 03, 2009

Dealing with DreamHost Server Migration

DreamHost sent me an email telling me that my account had been moved to another server. OK, fine - "what's that mean to me, Al Franken?" They said that it shouldn't affect most sites, but that you'd have to look out for paths in your applications that look like "/home/.something/username".
So, when when on my clients emailed me to say that his WordPress site was giving him an error message that read:

Unable to create directory /home/.spuds/user/domain.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07. Is its parent directory writable by the server?

I knew that I had been bitten by this error. OK, how to fix it? I grep'ed the WP PHP files, but couldn't find a path like that. So where was it coming from?

On a hunch, I decided to look at the wp_options table in the WP database and found a row called upload_path, and sure enough, it contained the offending directory. I just removed the ".spuds" portion of the path, as per DH's directions, and it all worked.

So, if you're on DreamHost, and they moved your WordPress blog, and it suddenly stopped working with that error message, try looking through wp_options in your databse. (FYI, DH puts a random string between the wp and the options to prevent collisions with other users in the same database.)