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DCL NYC 2018

DCL meet up at Times Square

Last month Terry and I went to New York, it was the second ‘official’ meet up for the DCL – the group of dragon fanatical friends I know/chat to from Neopets. We decided to try and do a meet up once every two years after the first one in Chicago. This time it was in New York. This is just a blog post so I can dump some pictures off my phone and talk about the rad time we had.

Brooklyn and Coney Island

Terry and I got our flights over a few days before the meet up – it doesn’t make a ton of sense for us to travel all that way for a three day meet up, so we try to make a full week at least from these events.

We spent the first few days of the trip at an AirBNB in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We actually used this same AirBNB last time we came to New York, it was just a really good location and we knew what we were getting. One of the main reasons we chose to stay a couple of days in Brooklyn was to visit Barcade again.

Barcade in Williamsburg is awesome, really good ales and retro games machines. I kinda love it there. I got some Frogger and Q*bert high scores. 😀

Another reason for staying in Brooklyn again was so we could revisit Coney Island. The last time Terry and I went it was in November and we took the tube to Coney Island to find it cold, dark and derelict. It was like something out of a horror movie!

Thankfully it was nothing like that this time! The fairground was open, so were gift shops and bars. We had a great day wandering around, shopping and drinking on the water front. We even went to the beach and built an AWESOME sandcastle.

We also went to the Coney Island Brewing Company bar. They sold some really nice drinks. It was only a brief couple of days we spent in Brooklyn, so there wasn’t much time to do much more, the next day we were crossing over to New Jersey.

New Jersey and the DCL Meetup

We arranged the meet up to be in New Jersey because we wanted a big house that could fit the 15 or so of us attending, and adhere to people’s budgets. The main point of the DCL meet up is just to hang out, so we found somewhere nice and spacious within a 30 minute drive from Manhattan.

It was a bit difficult to find though, I can’t remember the exact issue, but it was something like a difference between typing in ‘John F Kennedy Boulevard’ and ‘John Fitzgerald Kennedy Boulevard’ took you to one of two different places.

So, Terry and I obviously had the version of the address which didn’t send you to the AirBNB. We had the one that sent you 20 minutes through New Jersey and right outside a Walmart. Luckily half the group also made the same mistake, so whilst we were trying to work out the issue, Joe, Nicole and a few others from the group pulled over and we just had a great laugh over it.

After a few calls to Garfy and realising what the issue was we found the place. This was the beginning of the group referring to Garfy as ‘Mom’ for the weekend. Garfy is kind of the group leader, half because she’s the most responsible and she does most of the meet up co-ordination, and half because she pays for the site hosting and always makes sure our dragon stories are backed up. So yeah, she’s very important!

Eventually the group all made it to the same place. And we had a GREAT weekend!

The first day we pretty much just stayed in the AirBNB, there was some wandering around for food and stuff but it just resulted in us getting pizza back to the house.

We played Cards Against Humanity. And in what was at least a three-hour session, I won no cards. Apparently I am not funny!

We made trips to Manhattan during the weekend, there are really convenient, cheap busses which took you to Port Authority bus station at Times Square right from the house we were staying in.

Half the group had never been to New York City before, so we did most of the usual tourist stuff – Times Square, important buildings and photo ops, and Central Park.

To be honest, Times Square was pretty stressful for a group of 15 of us. It was great, but we all got tired, and separated a lot. Nothing too major, but we all realised that Chicago was definitely an easier location for these type of meet ups.

Back at the AirBNB we pretty much just drew, played games and exchanged stories. It was the first time I met Kathy – she’s one of my oldest friends from the DCL and she couldn’t make past meet ups. So it was AWESOME seeing her.

I’ve mentioned before how much I love this group, they’re all really old friends who are a lot like me, we all like the same stuff, have the same creative hobbies, and the only thing we really get stressed about when we meet up is worrying everyone else is okay. Haha.

Manhattan and the Lower East Side

Okay now I’ve gone back and changed the capitalisation on that header three times where was I? Ah yeah, so most people had to leave Sunday afternoon.

Terry and I were heading in to Manhattan to spend our last couple of days, and Garfy and Danielle came along as they had evening flights back to their cities.

Something that was REALLY cool was seeing Google’s New York headquarters. We spent the afternoon there. It’s pretty amazing. Huge, open plan offices with amazing city views:

There were scooters in the offices to help people get around the huge office space faster, open kitchen areas, game areas and just, lots of useful space. I guess it’s not surprising Google would have a pretty rad New York office. But yeah, it was fun checking that out.

After that we went to Chelsea market for food and drink, which was some of the best grub I had the entire time. There was a German stall selling amaze currywursts.

When it was left to just Terry and me, we stayed at The Ridge Hotel, which was a pretty nice hotel, small rooms but everything was nice, clean and had really friendly staff.

We found what must be our new favourite New York bar – Fool’s Gold. It’s a bar with good food and drink, but they have some form of entertainment on every night at 8pm. We only had two evenings to spend, but we got involved in drinking bingo (we won three times!) and the next day was a pub quiz but we had drank a little too much to be even slightly useful that night.

The nice thing about being in Manhattan for the third time was that by now Terry and I had already seen all the big tourist stuff, so we had no real desire to go back up to Times Square or any of that after the weekend. We chose to stay more south this time so we could enjoy some ‘real New York’.

I can’t think of a reason I’ll have for visiting New York again any time soon, especially since we deduced it was a bad place to host the DCL meet up going forward. But if and when I find myself back there I would definitely stay in the area we did again.

Photo dump timeeeee!

 

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Why I couldn’t be a full time artist and why that’s totally okay.

This is a blog post I’ve been thinking about for a while. Just to voice some thoughts about the kind of art I like to make and to answer questions I get about my lack of ‘passion’ to take it further. I’m sure other artsy-types have heard these kinds of things before:

‘You’re good at art, why don’t you do it full time?’
‘Oh what a nice drawing, your talent is wasted!’
‘Kay that’s great, you *really* need to do something with your art!’

Uh, I didn’t mean the start of this blog post to sound like a brag, and in no way are these comments annoying. It’s ace for people to think your art is actually decent enough to do something professional with. Sure there’s a confidence side to things where I’m not sure I’d agree my drawings are good enough, but this post isn’t about those thoughts at all.

I just kind of wanted to ramble about why I don’t think I would enjoy ‘working as an artist’. Because, you might be surprised to learn, that holy crap, I think I’d hate it.

Hate working as an artist? The primary hobby I spend most of my free time doing? Heck yeah. There’s a few reasons why working as an artist doesn’t have a great deal of appeal to me, and here’s the reasons:

1. Restrictions in what you draw

I see a lot of artists within the online community with similar styles as me who do really well with art. They’re selling prints, comics, whatever. They look great! But there’s a HUGE gap in sales and popularity between ‘fan-art’ and ‘original art’. Especially in the online art community.

It’s not surprising, nobody who doesn’t know you is going to be instantly interested in your own original characters and concepts. I think of a handful of artists I’d think ‘have made it’, and make original art for a living. Most of the artists I can think of started out creating mostly fan-art. Then as years go on they slowly integrated their own characters and stuff into their portfolios. But it takes a while.

There are exceptions. I can think of a girl who used to come on the DCL forum who’s super popular selling art now and its all of her own original cat characters. So the fan-art rule is not 100% of cases, but it makes a huge difference. The artist I mention actually posted her own rant about how hard she had to work when someone asked her ‘How do you make money selling your cat drawings?’ I wish I could find that post.

Anyway, for me, I don’t like doing a lot of fan-art. I do draw some, like there’s drawings of Sonic and Tails, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon knocking around. But they’re total one-offs for me. Pokemon is a popular fan-art theme that would suit my style, but as much as I enjoy Pokemon, I get no enjoyment out of drawing them.

Looking at my own art, my most ‘liked’ piece of art on social media is an old Winnie the Pooh drawing. So I know I could churn out a good amount of fan-art and get likes and boost my networking within the art community. But I’d hate doing it. Drawing fan-art is mostly boring for me. So no, I’m not willing to put the amount of time it’d take into doing it.

Commissions tie in to this. Because I take commissions sometimes, but I’m actually super picky. Unless someone wants a cute animal or dragon specifically, it’s unlikely I’ll accept commission work.

I just can’t stand drawing stuff I don’t enjoy. Great for those who enjoy making fan-art, this is just how I feel about making it myself.

 

2. I suck at charging people for art

This is a smaller issue I’m trying to get better with. As mentioned, sometimes people commission me for artwork, and sometimes I sell things on Etsy – keyring, notepads, pin badges.

Pretty much everything I have paid to have made, I’ve given a bunch away. I give keyrings and notepads to my friends if they like them. It’s hard to charge your friends for things. To be fair this isn’t the part I’m trying to get better at, because I like giving things to my friends.

The part that is more of a problem is commissions. For example, a nice girl on the web paid for me to draw three pictures – so, as a thanks, I’ve since drew her two free pictures. Haha. From a sales perspective that’s not great? But yeah, that’s something I do.

I am bad at not doing things for free.

 

3. I have other hobbies, and they fight for my inspiration.

I have a ton of hobbies, because people without hobbies are boring. Hobbies are rad, and you learn and keep yourself busy, yeah, hobbies rock! My hobbies include drawing, coding (split this between making sites in HTML and CSS for fun because I am just that lame, PHP, WordPress, Swift and Python), blogging, Raspberry Pi projects, crafts, making games, creative writing and would you believe I added foreign language to the list recently.

The way hobbies work for me are: I’ll start a project when I’m inspired, take my Fitbit Plugin as an example. I’ll blast out a bunch of work on it. Hit a point deep in the project’s development. Then one of my other hobbies will go ‘HEY LET’S ALSO START A PROJECT’. Then it takes a while for the focus of inspiration to come back round to the Fitbit Plugin project. It does eventually though – That plugin is now pretty much about as finished as it will be for a long time after I got back to it and fixed the bugs.

Artwork also suffers from this. I will get a ton of inspiration, draw a BUNCH of things, but then there’s weeks/months where the most I draw are a few sketches.

The problem with doing my own art as a job, is I couldn’t afford to take months out to pursue other creative ideas. And that’d suck.

 

But this is all okay because I’m happy not drawing professionally

Ever since I was little, I never pursued art as a career. Don’t get me wrong, the interest and encouragement has always been there. But my aspirations went from ‘I want to be a teacher’ in primary school, to ‘Journalist’ for like a year, and then all through high school it was ‘Games Designer/Programmer’ until I realised I had totally picked the wrong choices for that in college.

It goes back to that ‘having other interests’ thing. The artists I know who do the same kind of art as me don’t have these other hobbies, mostly speaking anyway – they are willing to put 100% of their time into drawing, plugging their art, going to conventions and seeking out opportunities.

I’m not willing to give up the other things I do for fun to make a living out of art. The thing that actually spurred me on to finally write this post was when Terry said earlier this week that I am one of two people he knows who actually have a job ‘doing the thing they want to do’.

Because one of my other hobbies is actually my job. Listed earlier – websites and WordPress. This is another hobby I have had since I was a kid. So I’m actually pretty lucky. Working with websites means I learn stuff I would have usually taken hobby time to do, and frees me up to spend my spare time on my other hobbies.

But I just think sometimes people see me draw and automatically assume this must be what I want to do.

Nah, screw that. It has literally *never* been the thing I want to do. Being an artist means I’d have to draw more than I already do, which is a LOT, I’d have to draw things people like, churn out art according to a schedule, and probably be less picky about work and commissions which come in.

I am trying to do more with my art, that for me means having a little shop on the side and taking commissions specifically from people who want cute animal art. One day I want to write and illustrate a story, but I’m doing that for myself. Not in the hopes it’d become something popular.

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Kay’s ‘Getting started with XDebug for WordPress’ Guide

Over the weekend I spoke at WordCamp London about using XDebug, it was a quick lightning talk, and I wanted to write out what I went through and some additional bits because a few people said they’d like something like that to get them started. Plus usually after a WordCamp I usually just post a simple blog about ‘Oh yeah this happened and it was fun’ so I wanted to write something more useful after it!

It’s also worth mentioning that I’m not a developer, so this is a very basic ‘How to get started’ guide showing you just some of the things XDebug can do. It’s a much more powerful tool than outlined here, and you should definitely do some extra research after reading!

So uh, yeah! Here goes.

Setting XDebug up on a local environment (MAMP)

The easiest way to get started with XDebug is with MAMP on your computer, because it comes already installed. If you’re using a different local development solution there’s tonnes of guides online for a variety of them. I just used MAMP because I found it by far the quickest and easiest to set up for beginners.

Here are the steps:

  1. Download and install MAMP from: https://www.mamp.info/en/

When MAMP is installed and opened you will have a window like the one to the right. Click ‘Start servers’ to fire up your local environment.

This will load up a webpage with useful resources for your local development area. It’ll look like the screenshot below – and will include links to your homepage and php info page.

 From here, click on the ‘phpInfo’ page, this gives you useful information about the version of PHP and the modules associated with it running on your test server. we specifically want to use this page to find out where our php.ini config file is located.

Now we know where the file is located, we can navigate there on our computer. So if you go to the folder where the php.ini files located and open it up in your preferred text editor program, you can edit some of the options here. We are going to enable XDebug by finding this line at the bottom:

;zend_extension=”/Applications/MAMP/bin/php/php7.2.1/lib/php/extensions/no-debug-non-zts-20170718/xdebug.so”

This is the XDebug module, which is disabled by default, to enable it all you need to do is remove the semi-colon from the start and add whichever XDebug options you want to enable, so here’s what my XDebug lines look like in php.ini after enabling it:

Finally, I enable onsite errors on my test server so I can see them immediately on the page. To do this I change the line in my php.ini file currently saying ‘display_errors = Off’ to:

Then use the MAMP main screen to restart my server. When that is done you can check your php.ini file to see if XDebug is listed as enabled, or you can go ahead and start breaking some PHP code, because with display errors enabled it will show you on your homepage like this:

You don’t have to enable onsite errors, but I find them easy to work with, instead you can choose log files to send them to, for a full list of options check out: https://xdebug.org/docs/

Profiling

Profiling is a super handy tool that XDebug offers. It helps to find out where memory issues lie, by saving data about your called functions in a cachegrind file.

To enable profiling, you first need to add this to your php.ini file (or possibly .htaccess depending how your server is set up and if you’re using actual online hosting):

php_value[xdebug.profiler_enable]=1

This enables profiling, and your site will start generating a cachegrind file full of useful insights. For ease of obtaining this, you can set your own path for where the cachegrind file(s) will be saved:

php_value[xdebug.profiler_output_dir]=/var/www/vhosts/mysite.co.uk/httpdocs/

From there, I can download and save my cachegrind file to my computer. Opening it will give you all the information obtained, but it’s pretty much unreadable because of the file format. But with a program like Webgrind you can open the cachgrind file in a much more readable and user-friendly format. For Mac users like myself however, the easiest way to do this is by installing and running Qcachegrind. Which is installed as follows:

  • Open Terminal on your Mac.
  • type ‘brew install qcachegrind’
  • Type ‘brew install graphviz’

Now you can run Qcachegrind and open the file you saved earlier, as follows:

qcachegrind ~/Downloads/cachegrind.out.21991

Obviously change the directory to wherever you downloaded and saved your cachegrind file. When this is ran it will load up a window that looks something like this:

This screenshot does contain a lot of information, but it is far more readable than just opening up the cachegrind file in your text editor. The left side panel gives you load times for individual functions, in order of what takes the longest. With this you can easily identify if a plugin is slowing your WordPress site down, because it might have a specific function taking a long time here.

The right side gives a more graphical representation of these load times. Bigger boxes are bigger and longer-to-run functions. It does give a lot more information than this, but this is mostly what I’ve used qcachegrind for, and its definitely worth running if you want to get some deep insights in to what is running and causing slowdown on your site.

Breakpoints and FYIs

I don’t do a lot of hardcore development myself, so breakpoints aren’t something I regularly use. But they’re definitely worth looking in to because it allows you to use XDebug with your code editor and set a line in your file to stop the script running at that point.

I’m going to link to the documentation for Atom for that, but yeah, check breakpoints out:

https://atom.io/packages/php-debug

Other things to be aware of when running XDebug on your servers are:

  • XDebug is resource intensive, so if you do enable it on any live hosting, make sure you turn it off any time it is not being actively used by yourself to debug code. Ideally just run it on your staging.test environments.
  • Keep in mind on-site errors will also need switching off if you don’t want them showing up.
  • Cachegrind files and extended error logs can fill up server space quickly, so again, only enable it when needed!

Thanks for reading through this, if anyone needs further help getting started with XDebug feel free to get in touch. I’m not sure how good I am at writing tutorials so if anyone gets stuck I’d love to know if something needs making clearer!

Also check out 34SP.com‘s WordPress hosting as we have XDebug ready to run on our servers which helps us to help you debug your site!

Check out the official documentation for a full list of options and features and have a rad time debugging! – https://xdebug.org/docs/