[i]Doesn't time fly? It's the start of a new year and accordingly I'm pleased to announce our first Member of the Month for 2014 - Mark Brown.
Most of you should know Mark, as he was a Mentor for a long time, stepping down only recently. I took the opportunity to catch up with him and ask him a few questions. Enjoy!
Mark, congratulations on being voted Member of the Month for January 2014. I have to ask - were you surprised?[/i]
Thanks! I was surprised because I haven't been as active as I was in ye olden days. Maybe when I don't pop in as often you all forget the trouble I cause.
Oh we never forget But anyway... did you have a good Christmas? Your profile tells me that you are located in Victoria, Australia which means it will have been hot. How did you celebrate? Was it on the beach with a BBQ?
Christmas involved roast dinners and plum puddings with the immediate family, and then catching the extended family for brunch on Boxing Day with some time in the spa and pool.
Over new years I plan to go camping with my partner down near Gippsland at the 90 mile beach which will be fun and hopefully sunny.
You've been around the forums for a good while. What originally attracted you to SitePoint and what made you stay?
Yes, I found SitePoint when I was still at Uni. I hung out in the CSS forum all day and learnt how not to lay out pages with <table>s.
I learned CSS for real when I started to answer others questions, but what made me stick around were the super helpful replies from people like Tyssen, Dan Schulz and Paul O'Brien. I really enjoyed Paul's quizzes too!
You have a [great homepage which I spent quite a while looking around. On it I read that you work for [URL="http://inspire9.com"]Inspire9](http://yellowshoe.com.au). Could you tell us what it is you do for them? Which web technologies do you use on a daily basis?
Thanks, I like simplicity and think that Times New Roman can still look decent.
Inspire9 is a co-working space so there's lots of startups and freelancers all working together. I worked there as a freelance front-end developer before joining [Inspire9's development agency, [URL="http://cultureamp.com"]Culture Amp and now am working with [URL="http://adioso.com"]Adioso](development.inspire9.com).
What parts of your job do you like most?
I love learning something new and I get a kick out of working on something visual and interactive in particular - like Adioso's price calendar or Obsurfation's interactive map. Communicating with the users of your site and understanding how they use the site is really special and rewarding too - I wouldn't make an application without including Intercom and Mixpanel.
Are there any things you dislike?
Sure, testing in Internet Explorer. Finding out I've broken things for a lot of people gives me that sinking feeling too.
Hopefully that doesn't happen too often
You claim that Inspire9 have the best offices in Melbourne. What makes them so great (I'm thinking free booze and motorbikes à la GitHub...)
It's just a relaxed work environment full of friendly and helpful people. There's no office politics because everyone is their own boss.
I also see from your homepage that you built an HTML5 game using SVG and Canvas. Can you tell us a bit about that. What were the challenges it involved?
It was a small job for a local design agency. The design was finished and I just needed to make it work on the web / iPad.
The more interesting parts were making the car animate and rotate around the track and detecting the direction of the spinner from mouse / touch gestures. I wrote a blog post covering some of the technical aspects. You always feel smart when you make something work with maths.
At SitePoint you are often to be found in the Ruby on Rails forum. What makes Rails so great in your opinion? Why is it your framework of choice as opposed to something like Django or CodeIgniter?
The first thing you notice about Rails coming from other frameworks is how much less you need to do. I find it much more enjoyable and productive than anything else I've used because everything has a home, the code is as little as needed and it has beautiful APIs. There's also a massive amount of contributions from the community in Ruby Gems which allow you to stand on the shoulders of giants. Ruby is also the prettiest programming language I have read or written. Rails conventions mean that I don't need to keep shifting my thought process away from the problem, all the pieces seem to work together - it makes me happy.
PHP is arguably the simplest thing to get up and running: install XAMPP, create index.php and anything between the <?php ?> blocks gets executed and can output into the page, anyone can get started quickly.
There's a very real lack of structure and design to PHP though, and OO was an afterthought. The enormous list of global functions is a junk drawer that keeps getting things tossed into it. This is why a lot of the method names are prefixed with their logical grouping like array_xxx(). It's the simplest but the ugliest option.
Python as a language is one of the very best, similar to Ruby and there's a care for design in the language and syntax. Django is Rails' lesser structured / more limited cousin and requires more code and effort to get the same things done. I don't find it as enjoyable as I'm always having to stop what I'm doing to include other modules or export new variables to views.
And where does Node.js fit into the mix from your point of view?
Node is a very attractive option right now. Architecturally it's unique and was created for its performance and asynchronous capabilities. A huge amount of momentum has built around it and will continue to grow. No doubt I'll use it in production in the future. It doesn't have a full-stack framework with the maturity of Rails yet but they're coming in fast and there's already great, light-weight frameworks like Express to get you started.
Moving away from tech. You were a Mentor at SitePoint until recently when you left us to travel around India. What was that like? Where did you go? What impressions did the country leave on you?
I traveled solo for 6 weeks around southern and eastern India. My partner joined me for two weeks in the north and then we headed to Nepal for two more weeks.
India has such a rich history and diverse culture, spirituality is everywhere and the people are very tolerant of one another. It's impossible to define because it's so diverse but I will share a couple of lasting memories.
Watching the sunset at Kanyakumari where three seas meet at the southern tip of India was a beautiful experience in a very spiritual place. Exploring the Buddhist, Hindu and Jain temples in the caves of Ellora was amazing. You can easily picture thousands of monks with chisel in hand carving and singing for centuries.
Sleeping under the stars of the Jaisalmer desert listening to the songs of the camel-men is magical. Exploring the high walled desert forts of Rajasthan makes you feel like you're in Lord of the rings.
Varanasi is India's holiest Hindu site where people come from all over India for their final pilgrimage to die and be cremated on the banks of the Ganges. Tasting the creamiest of hand-churned lassi in a tiny alley shop whilst the dead were carried outside on the shoulders of chanting family members to the cremation ghats was an experience I won't soon forget.
Finally, I experienced the hospitality and sentimentality of Indians when I visited the families of five friends I made in Hyderabad. They fall in love quickly and care deeply for their friends.
Wow! That sounds great. I see from your homepage that traveling is an important part of your life (you say that it is one of the greatest privileges to see the world). Where is the one place that you have been to that you enjoyed most?
Travel is a great education, it smashes preconceived ideas and unites you with others. I loved Vietnam, the people are friendly and honest, tasting the fresh pho made by little old ladies or the BBQ street food is great. Nepal's people are also lovely and it's breathtakingly beautiful among the Himalayas.
I see you've never been to Europe (Germany's nice :)). Where in the world would you most like to visit next? Why?
Well, in February I will be moving to the Philippines with my partner who has accepted a volunteer position for 8 months. At some point I will travel around South America too, including Peru, Brazil and Argentina.
I've wanted to experience cultures very different from Australia, and this is the reason I haven't spent much time in western areas like America or Europe. I'm sure I would enjoy them though.
As you travel so much, you must have experienced a wide variety of cuisines. What is your favourite food?
Vietnamese is my favourite. It's healthy, fresh, full of herbs and makes you feel great. Southern Indian food is also tasty and healthy, mostly vegetarian and full of spice.
Aside from traveling, what other interests do you have? What do you do when you're not online?
I spend all day on the internet When I do unplug, though, I enjoy riding my bicycle, eating well, playing the guitar and singing.
What's your favourite band/film/book?
I enjoy listening to my friends' bands most [Dash, [URL="http://www.triplejunearthed.com.au/Canos"]Canos, [URL="http://vimeo.com/44188558"]Winterlights](http://musicofdash.com/).
Pulp Fiction would have to be near the top of my list, I am a big fan of Tarantino's movies. The Kite Runner and Shantaram are great books, Getting Real by 37signals was also hugely influential, I've read it about 20 times.
SitePoint Forums have seen a lot of changes in the past few months (e.g. the redesign and Ralph M's promotion to Admin). As someone who has been around here for good few years, what do you make of all this?
I see those as fairly normal changes. All websites need to be redesigned regularly and Ralph's been a great help around the forums for a long time, it was only natural.
If there was one thing you could change about the forums, what would it be?
SitePoint used to be the best place on the internet to learn web technologies with a community of people with the same interests. Nowadays there is a plethora of more focused ways to learn web technologies - screencasts, blogs, conference videos, books, and online schools like Code Academy, Code school and Learnable.
On the community side there's Twitter, Google Plus and Github, which put you in touch with some of the best in the world. SitePoint forums are still a great place to ask specific questions and receive personal answers. Its best asset is the sense of community and the amount of time that goes into responses - the social interactions on those other sites I mentioned are all in the form of fleeting moments or 120 character opinions.
The pace and focus of SitePoint's questions and answers are still unique. I think the Talk with The Experts sessions have been a great addition. More of that!
As you know, normally self promotion is not allowed on SitePoint, but I guess we can make an exception just this once. Is there anything you would like to take this opportunity to plug (a good cause or a new project, for example)?
[Hello Sunday Morning is a great cause. It's a community for people who are taking a break from alcohol and sharing their experiences and supporting each other. [URL="http://adioso.com"]Adioso is the most enjoyable and flexible way to find great flights. If you're a keen surfer you should give [URL="http://obsurfation.com"]Obsurfation](http://hellosundaymorning.org/) a bash.
I'm more of a diver than a surfer, but I'll check it out anyway:)
And finally ... anything else you would like to add?
Teaching others is a noble endeavor. SitePoint continues to be a great place to learn as well teach, so keep up the great work.
[i]Thank you very much for some great answers, Mark! And thank you, too, for sticking around after stepping down as a Mentor!
Now it's over to the rest of you ...[/i]