Productive Use of Twitter: Are You Stalking or Are You Talking?

Posted: July 29th, 2010

Probably not the best use of Twitter here

Probably not the best use of Twitter here

I tend to have an on-again, off-again relationship with Twitter. Some weeks are just so busy with work that Twitter plays second fiddle to it. I still don’t get paid to use it so, sorry there little avatars with personalities, you’ll have to wait until next week (or after a night out later tonight).

Maybe it’s time to rethink that again for a second.

Now I’m not one to buy into using Twitter for the whole celebrity “reaching out to your fans” experience. I can just see it now if I did my daily Twitter stalking and finally received that coveted response.

@freelancerant Back off dude. I got armed bodyguards and an unlimited legal fund.

I prefer its “proper” use such as networking, sharing links and trading a friendly jab once in a while. When I really thought about it, though, it’s much more than that.

  • I’ve improved by leaps and bounds in my work as a web developer because I’m in constant contact with those who seem to know quite a bit more than I do. OK, they DO know more than I do.
  • I’m friends with others outside of my field such as marketers, designers, writers, Twitter socialites and the general population with free time on their hands. You definitely learn a thing or two by branching out and learning from users you wouldn’t normally expect to learn from.
  • I’m up-to-date on absolutely everything. It can be crucial to your success being on top of your work, technology and what Justin Bieber had for lunch an hour ago (so I don’t have to follow him myself).
  • I’ve made great business contacts who I know, with a reasonable degree of intuition, are good peoples.
  • Considering all the above as what I get out of Twitter, an hour a day invested in it is rather minimal.

I’ve been on Twitter for over a year now and, while it is a no-brainer to use, it does take some time to realize how it can put a positive jolt in your freelancing career. Pry yourself from the distraction side, though admittedly I can’t help but to have humor and sports in my feed, and you have a tool that can move you places.

That or witness people moving places. Nothing like something to motivate you to move forward.

On a side note, I say this as I unfollow @Alyssa_Milano. You were a distraction and never responded but I have my real friends now, thank you.

Top Ten Freelancing Rules To Break, Just So Things Don’t Get Boring

Posted: July 26th, 2010

Some wise man once said that all rules were made to be broken (I know, cliche). It’s true though. Who ever got by as a freelancer by happily obeying the rules of the working world? Yet despite this career choice, there still always seems to be more rules to have to follow. Well, I give you permission to break these ten so you can get on with your career already.

10. Set and meet deadlines. If it doesn’t involve kidnappings, legislation or nuclear standoffs, then it really isn’t important in the grand scheme of things, is it?

9. Be attentive to your clients. Your clients are mature adults fully capable of handling themselves. So be repectful and treat them as so.

8. Quality is everything. Yeah, they say that at McDonalds but you still eat there right?

7. Always collect a 50% deposit at the beginning of any project. I’d think a 100% deposit would be better. You know you’ll be high-fiving me later.

6. Learn to just say no. Didn’t work during your teenage years. No sense in trying now.

5. Eliminate your work distractions. Spending hours on end on Twitter and checking up on Lindsey Lohan makes for a pretty dull life. See how distracting yourself with work turns out.

4. Take a vacation once in a while. Now would be a good time to go all crazy with Twitter and the Lindsey Lohan updates instead of doing something lame, like travel.

3. Keep up with your health. Live young forever. Spend day after day high on Red Bull and coffee and burning out your retinas. Kids are totally jealous of this.

2. Save money whenever possible. Well, have to keep up with the stash of Red Bull and coffee, right?

1. Always use a contract. Go with the pinky swear instead.

The Week In Freelance: July 23rd

Posted: July 23rd, 2010

Winning The War on Computer Disasters

Posted: July 22nd, 2010

The Deceased

The Deceased (R.I.P.)

Well, it happened sooner than I thought it would. Not too long ago, I gave the automated online backup a try so I could relieve myself of the pesky task of having to remember to do it myself. Turns out it was like buying life insurance before a vacation to Afghanistan. The beloved tower of power, a workhorse to countless projects and surviving several deadly viruses, had passed away.

He was 4.

Despite a quick mourning, the sudden death didn’t really phase me. His understudy, the Vista laptop, quickly took over the reins and was left a nice fortune from the completed and up-to-date backup sitting online.

Carrying out the work duties from the little Vista wasn’t cause for much pain and downtime. There are, however, some new protocols that I’ve put in place in order for the next unexpected death to create absolutely zero downtime and zero cause for pain, work buddy death notwithstanding.

1. Having a laptop that is completely synchronized to your desktop computer

I’m pretty thankful for the Carbonite backup saving my ass but there is one gripe I now have about it. I have about 20 GB of data to download and it takes three days to complete it. While I’d recommend to get an online backup, of any kind at the very least, a three day wait for your data can set you back.

Recently, though, I tried out Dropbox (thanks Jon) and wished I had started with this from the beginning. It not only backs up your data, it can synchronize files between any number of computers so, if one bites the dust, you have another computer to fall back on without the wait to update it.

Dropbox is even free for up to 2 GB of data and 10 USD/month for up to 50 GB of data.

2. Using an online service for the RSS reader and bookmarks

To me, it made the most sense to utilize a Firefox add-on for an RSS reader and save bookmarks through the browser. They are all part of a happy family so why not?

Not so smart. These were long forgotten as a part of the backup. Similar to the feeling of losing a few dollars from your wallet, it wasn’t anything too serious, but I would like them back.

While you can technically utilize an add-on, FEBE (Firefox only), to backup your bookmarks, RSS and browser configurations, it’s easier just to stick to online appplications with Google Reader and Delicious to store bookmarks. You can carry on without missing a step if you have to switch to another computer.

3. Use a password storage service instead of auto-saving passwords in the browser

OK, this one I started doing even before the online backup. We do tend to get lazy when it comes to passwords though. I mean, do you autosave in the browser (not exactly bad) or, worse, use the same password for everything from the Gmail account to your blog server to your online bank?

The issue is, of course, is that it is hard to remember all those passwords, much less, coming up with them. I don’t know about you but I’d rather have to handle this than someone who hacked my PayPal account then emailed all my friends to tell them about it from my Gmail. Uhm, not that it happened…

Anyway, I’d highly recommend you try out Mitto which has proven to be safe, using online security similar to those of banks. Plus it’s free. And it would be wise to change those “password123” passwords you’ve been using since the 90’s to stronger ones with a random mix of letters and numbers. This password generator makes it a whole lot easier.

* * *

Have any Plan B’s in case your computer goes down or have any other suggestions to minimize downtime upon computer disaster? Let’s hear it in a comment!

The Week in Freelance: July 16th

Posted: July 16th, 2010

Freelancer Rage, Another Extension of Your Driving

Posted: July 14th, 2010

Photo by I Like (Flickr)

Photo by I Like (Flickr)

I’m not ashamed to admit that some of my biggest mistakes (and biggest lessons) as a freelancer came as a result of letting my emotions get too far out of control and take over my decision making.

Such as the time long ago when I sent Mr. Henderson an email to the effect of, “YOU HAVEN’T PAID YET. PLEASE PAY NOW!” just three days removed from handing him a $50 invoice.

Then there was the other time when I dropped some f-bombs on beloved colleagues who have been providing me plenty of work the last three years. All without receiving a raised voice in return. Looking back, they did give me money to shut the f#!@ up… ah, nevermind.

The thing is I don’t know of one freelancer who never gets angry, no matter how trivial the reason is. Part of it, if not all, is due to the stress in our lives and our work. Some days nothing seems to go right and those who happen to touch a nerve, even the slightest bit, suddenly become victims of an “earful”.

Since, in most cases when a punching bag isn’t readily available, we get a nice relief of stress by unleashing that fury upon the client. As soon as we cool off, we’re left with a few nagging thoughts over what just happened.

  • We could lose this dear client of ours (assuming you like the person)
  • You now have a rep as a hothead and not fun at all to work with
  • Face it, you’re probably an asshole too

It was immediately after the aforementioned colleague-bashing when I came upon my own realization that this can never happen again. Not even to clients I’ve made voodoo effigies of and poked nails in.

Fast forward two years later, I’ve outgrown my hothead-asshole persona and another weird thing happened as well.

Business improved. This while following only a few simple rules.

1. Stop

There will be a point after reading that email your blood gets boiling. Stop whatever you’re doing (yes even if it’s the middle of your work). Do not reply. Step away from the computer. It would be wise not to punch it either.

2. Vent (in private)

Here is where you can get crazy with the voodoo dolls or go out and buy a punching bag. You can also try my personal favorite, pacing back and forth in your office pretending to give an angry speech to your client. Just keep this out of public view, OK?

Then there are the more practical venting techniques such as a five-mile run or hitting the gym. Or just get an ice cream cone. Ice cream always brings a smile when you pretend the scoop of ice cream is the client’s face melting.

3. Ignore

This is the hard part, but just let it go for the rest of the day. Get back to other work and just concentrate on that. I know thoughts of murder will seem to permeate your head but, if you relax, it will let go.

Another ice cream cone may help if not.

4. Answer (the next day)

Great, you just had a refreshing night of sleep and are in a proper mood to answer the client diplomatically. No threats or more ice cream needed. Plus you can tone down that memorized angry speech into polite arguments for that pending email.

* * *

Have you ever responded to a client in anger and regretted it later? Please share in a nice comment.

WebDev Corner: Are You Making This Mistake In Your MySQL Queries?

Posted: July 12th, 2010

Photo by Koke (Flickr)

Photo by Koke (Flickr)

I have a lot of respect for the designers who get their hands dirty and learn a little PHP and MySQL to code those websites themselves. I can sympathize with you that it doesn’t seem different from learning Chinese. Maybe not that hard but you get the picture.

Unfortunately, I see a common mistake made, not only by designers but programmers too, that leaves your database vulnerable to hackers. We’re talking leaving the door wide open with the keys still in the lock.

Let me explain with a piece sample code retrieving make-believe contact info from a database:

$query = "SELECT name, email FROM contacts WHERE id='.$_GET['id'].'";
$result = mysql_query($query);

Now here is where it can get dangerous. Since the “id” is retrieved directly from the $_GET variable in the URL (for example http://somewebsite.com?id=2), that leaves the query vulnerable to an injection attack. Let’s say we type the following in the browser:

http://somewebsite.com?id=’ OR 1=1

We then get the resulting query after the injection attack that, instead of returning the info for a single name, returns the entire list of names in the contacts table. Note that the 1=1 is valid SQL and always returns a true result.

$query = "SELECT name, email FROM contacts WHERE id='' OR 1=1'";

OK, that might not sound like serious damage being done to the database. This one, however, will delete all the rows in the contacts table. Note that the semi-colon will stop the query leading up to the semi-colon and execute everything after. The ”=” is also valid SQL.

$query = "SELECT name, email FROM contacts WHERE id='; DELETE FROM contacts WHERE ''=''";

These are only a couple examples of what can be done once your database has been breached. Access to user logins, adding rows to tables to “deface” a website, or the dreaded access to private customer information are other possibilities. Not exactly something you want happening to you.

This can easily be corrected, though, by getting into the habit of escaping your database queries with the PHP function mysql_real_escape_string. More specifically, this function is to be used for every variable inside your query string and is only to be used in your query string.

For example:

$query = "SELECT name, email FROM contacts
          WHERE name='".mysql_real_escape_string($_GET['name'])."'
          OR email='".mysql_real_escape_string($_GET['email'])."'";

$result = mysql_query($query);

What the function does is escape a string by adding slashes to characters that can alter an SQL query into an injection. So instead of a harmful query being executed, the proper query with the unharming string parameter executes. Not to mention, your database is spared a happy hacker.

Now, some of you may have caught the fact that the $_GET variables were not verified for data integrity nor sanitized to prevent XSS attacks. If I just confused the hell out of you, don’t worry, I’ll be posting a tutorial in the future that will cover these.

Stay tuned!

The Week In Freelance: July 9th

Posted: July 9th, 2010

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