Dusk https://madebydusk.com/ Dusk is the creative output of Rhys Jones, a photographer, graphic designer and front-end developer currently residing in Tromsø, Norway. en-nz Fri, 22 Sep 2017 02:07:11 +0000 Fri, 22 Sep 2017 02:07:11 +0000 The travelling circus https://madebydusk.com/journal/the-travelling-circus Wed, 31 May 2017 06:30:00 +0000 Rhys Jones <rj@dusk.is> https://madebydusk.com/journal/the-travelling-circus Some days it feels like I’m a part of a travelling circus, bouncing from one place to another, juggling various roles and responsibilities. I’ve been on the road for just over 13 years now. I’m not some digital nomad or wandering free spirit or life hacking digital disruptor. I’m a husband and a father who happens to have a skill set that is universally applicable.

A Jack of all trades…

I started out like most other kids who end up where I am, with a strong interest in graphic design and photography. After studying both for a few years and learning basic web development in my spare time, I started to realise skills in web design and development were growing in demand. Albeit this was during the early 2000’s in New Zealand, so in relatively small demand. I also saw the need for web designers to be able to code—though this is a different debate I'll save for another day—so I taught myself all that I could about the languages used to build websites. To be honest, I'm still learning and I always will be, the languages of the web are forever evolving.

After a few small freelance projects and the odd agency job, my girlfriend—now wife—politely informed me that she would be moving to Australia to take up a PhD position and I was welcome to join. With nothing really substantial on the horizon, I agreed on the spot.

This decision was pivotal. I guess the arrogance of youth worked in my favour here. I didn't over think it, I just did what felt right and went for it. Had I squandered this decision and thought through all the possible outcomes, I probably would have never left New Zealand.

Shortly after arriving in Australia I was offered two jobs. One at a software company, the other at a design studio. I took the former, because the work was more varied and I felt this would broaden my skill set.

master of none…

It certainly broadened my skill set, from working within a massive team, version control, software development, icon design, community management and interaction design. The list goes on and from this experience I realised I was still very much a greenhorn. It was humbling and certainly what I needed at that point in my career, a swift kick to my ego. The main lesson I took away from this period was to shut up and listen. To be empathetic towards the end users—in this case, records managers around the world.

Now with an expanded skill set, I felt more confident with moving on and shifting my life to Sweden. Though it was a double-edged sword, with my new found confidence came complacency. I took a job within another technology company, a massive Fortune 100 company with a head count hovering around 300,000. I was also unsure how life would be in Sweden and wanted the safety net of something familiar. This was a mistake. My days were filled with strict corporate guidelines and zero room for creativity or personal development.

Umea, Sweden
Winter setting in. Umeå, Sweden.

With everything I know now, I should have immersed myself within the surrounding environment, taken a job locally and thrown myself into the deep-end. I did pick up some new skills during my four years there, I made some great friends and travelled to some amazing places. There are pro's and con's to everything, but in this case my career development suffered due to my aversion to taking risks. Lesson learned.

but ofttimes better than master of one.

Wanting to explore more of Scandinavia, we shifted further north into Arctic Norway. I left my job and started the search for work locally in the small arctic town we had settled in. I didn't have very high hopes due to its remoteness—350 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle.

Surprisingly though, it didn't take too long. My broad skill set and proactiveness turned out to be an ideal match for a Biotechnology company searching for a graphic designer. Up for the challenge of something new, I dived right in. Ever since then, I’ve been evolving this position and now work as the Creative Lead for their parent company.

There is no right or wrong way to go about getting creative work - it’s all contextual. In the context of traveling the world for the past 13 years, it has helped me greatly to have a broad skill set, an open mind and to be proactive about learning new skills. Try not to get too bogged down in the reeds, see the forest for the trees. It's easy to get hung up on the details, but try to open your eyes and see the bigger picture. You're only here for a short time, make the most of it.

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GeoIP redirects with WP Engine https://madebydusk.com/journal/geoip-redirects-with-wpengine Mon, 03 Apr 2017 13:44:00 +0000 Rhys Jones <rj@dusk.is> https://madebydusk.com/journal/geoip-redirects-with-wpengine Where I work we host all of our websites with WP Engine. They offer compelling hosting plans that do a lot of things right and at a good price. One of the main reasons I wanted to host our websites with them was because they manage the hosting. As in I don't need to update Wordpress when there is a new release, WP Engine does. On top of that they offer finely tuned servers, CDN's, staging sites, SSL certificates through Let's Encrypt and 24/7 support. All of which is great!

This takes a huge amount of weight off my shoulders, as the lone creative managing all of our organizations websites and peace of mind for the business units within the organization. Should anything go wrong—like me getting hit by a bus—then they have 24/7 support with WP Engine.

One of our business units had a requirement to redirect all visitors from the United States to a specific page on their website. Here the visitor would be presented with some information about the current state of the product in the US and a form to register their interest. This was due to the product being under FDA review and what claims were allowed to be made within the US.

To handle this I implemented WP Engines GEOIP plugin (note: this will only work on the Business or higher plan) along with the below PHP function.

/** USA GEOIP REDIRECT but allow bots **/
function country_geo_redirect() {
  $country = getenv('HTTP_GEOIP_COUNTRY_CODE');
  $agent = $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT'];
  $host = $_SERVER['SERVER_NAME'] . $_SERVER['REQUEST_URI'];
  if ( $host == 'domain.com/us/' || $host == 'domain.com/feed/' || isset($_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT']) && preg_match('/bot|crawl|slurp|spider/i', $_SERVER['HTTP_USER_AGENT']) || $country != "US" ) {
    return;
  }
  wp_redirect('https://domain.com/us/', 301);
  exit;
}
add_action('init', 'country_geo_redirect');

What the above function does is checks if the visitor has requested certain pages which we don't want to restrict access to—in this case, our US landing page and the RSS feed. Next we check if they are from outside the US. Finally we check if they are a search bot—because we still want Google and the like to access our site so they can index. If any of those conditions return true then the visitor is allowed to access the requested page.

However if those conditions are not met, then the visitor is redirected to the US landing page. This is initialized as soon as possible from within Wordpress so the visitor doesn't need to download additional resources.

Result achieved. We are now redirecting US based visitors to a "register your interest" page during the time the product is under going FDA review, while still allowing Google and other search bots to index our site.

Some side notesThe main reason for going with WP Engines GEOIP plugin over other Wordpress GEOIP plugins, is that other plugins would cause a redirect loop. I suspect the redirect loops occurred because of WP Engines caching technology. Also initially I had blocked US visitors from viewing the RSS feed. However this broke functionality with MailChimp—who are US based—which would scrape our RSS feed for new blog posts and send out a monthly news digest.

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Time marches on https://madebydusk.com/journal/time-marches-on Sun, 26 Mar 2017 10:34:00 +0000 Rhys Jones <rj@dusk.is> https://madebydusk.com/journal/time-marches-on This website has been a long time coming, to be honest. It has  been a pet project now for a good 3 years. First with getting a grips on preprocessing and everything that entails. Then GIT, though that should have really come first. Followed by settling on a CMS that fit my workflow and not defaulting to Wordpress. I settled for Craft if you’re interested, the depth of customisation on the front and back end is amazing, plus writing templates in twig is a dream.

Ever since I quit my corporate job at HP, I've been playing catch up, I had let myself get lazy and complacent. HP had a prescribed way of doing things. Plug content into Dreamweaver  templates, upload, then have a 3 hour long conference call to discuss. You stop challenging yourself to push forward and try new things, you fall into a rut.

Then life happened. Moving countries, attempting to learn languages, having children, travel and having a day job of managing all the creative material at a biotech company — and all its child companies — left me with very little time for much else.

So here I am, still in Norway and not sure where our next move will take us. Regardless though my work can be done from anywhere, so professionally it is of little consequence. 

I continue fiddling around in the background with this site. My next side project is to build a Northern Lights app, either using React Native or something similar. I don’t feel like restricting my work to walled gardens (iOS or Android), so either a web based app or something built in React Native should suffice.

At 34, I still find learning new Front-end development techniques fun and challenging, I guess that’s called a good career choice?

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It's sausages all the way down https://madebydusk.com/journal/its-sausages-all-the-way-down Thu, 26 Jun 2014 18:42:00 +0000 Rhys Jones <rj@dusk.is> https://madebydusk.com/journal/its-sausages-all-the-way-down I work for a biotechnology company in very northern Norway looking after all of their graphic design and web development needs. It’s a fulfilling job as I do not have a scientific background and am constantly challenged to find new and interesting ways to interpret the data that is produced by our scientists.

One of my techniques is to produce simple workflows of rather complex and confusing scientific protocols. These workflows are usual only 3 steps and get right to the crux of the protocol, they’re rather nice and quite simple. So nice in fact that I have noticed other competing companies directly embedding and linking to these images.

Initially I was pissed off. There is a lot of hours put into these rather simple looking workflows. Lots of consulting with the scientists to make sure I understood their protocol correctly, that everything makes sense and there are no conflicting messages present through out the workflow. I went for a walk to cool off and it dawned on me… these bastards are hot-linking to our images, I can have some fun and mess with them!

.htaccess to the rescue

# Prevent image hot-linking
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^$
RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} !^http(s)?://(www\.)?arcticzymes.com [NC]
RewriteRule \.(jpg|jpeg|png|gif|bmp)$ http://i.imgur.com/WP7x9BX.jpg [NC,R,L]

What the above 4 lines of code do is check the HTTP_REFERER of the image request and if it's not (www.)arcticzymes.com we send the webpage an image of sausages instead. Specifically these rather delicious looking lamb sausages.

Yummy lamb sausages!
These are some sausages

What resulted next was hilarious and had the desired effect. The offending website was now displaying these sausages throughout all of their product pages that once had my beautiful workflow images.

Over the course of the next two weeks I monitored the offending website, fully expecting them to update all of their image links within the first 24 hours of this happening. It took them 14 days... that’s 10 whole business days. That's potential customers coming to your website and seeing sausages instead of pretty images of workflows and enzymes. Talk about having egg on your face! Still, result achieved.

One unintentional side effect of what I have now coined the "sausage script", is a lot of our distributors have also been hot-linking to our images. When this script went live it left a lot of them scrambling as to what was going on, why were all of their product pages polluted with these delicious, mouth watering sausages.

Some have fixed their erroneous ways while some have not. I think we might add a “sausage script” clause into our distributor agreements.

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A work in progress https://madebydusk.com/journal/a-work-in-progress Mon, 16 Jun 2014 08:05:00 +0000 Rhys Jones <rj@dusk.is> https://madebydusk.com/journal/a-work-in-progress Dusk started out as a way for me to wrap my head around the latest techniques for building websites. It is primarily a portfolio site but it is also much more, a little back story first.

In a previous post I got a little heavy about where I've been and what has been happening in my life for the past 6 years. It also touched on some places that I've worked at, the primary one being HP. While I was working at HP — 4 years total — there wasn't really much time for trying out the latest advances in web development, I was having to build and manage websites using Dreamweaver templates... from 2009 right up until I left in 2012. The sites had to work in Internet Explorer 6 and be view-able on monitors with a resolution of 1024 x 768 or higher, the latter wasn't too much of an issue but the former, ouch! that was a royal pain in the ass. And I knew about it when a site didn't work in Internet Explorer 6 because a large portion of people internally were still running Windows XP with IE6. There was no room to introduce any new CSS or even much JavaScript into the templates, everything was locked down, prescribed and corporate.

So why didn't I just work on my own projects in the evenings and weekends then? That would of been a good way to stay up-to-date with the latest techniques of web development and this could of worked. I tried a few times but there was one major road block, California is 9 hours behind Sweden/Norway. This meant more often than not I was staying up until 10pm on conference calls, a downside of working from home in a foreign country I guess. And those Americans sure do like conference calls too, some weeks would see 4 conference calls scheduled, each on a different night and each lasting at least 1 hour. Who feels like being creative and trying out new development techniques after that? I sure as hell didn't. By the time the weekends rolled around all I wanted to do was leave the house and go hiking, which I did. This was great for my photography but not so great for my web development skills. There were other things also, like moving countries three separate times and everything that comes with that, having a child, trying to learn foreign languages... plus plenty more.

This might sound like one big giant excuse. I should know JavaScript inside out, my HTML should be 5, all my CSS should be written using preprocessors and I should be using task-runners to minify, concatenate, preprocess, optimize, test and lint all of the above.

I'm working on it.

Dusk is about me getting up to speed and trying out these new techniques and ideas. I have already picked up on using SASS (CSS preprocessing), using CSS3 features and structuring my markup using HTML5 elements. After living under a rock these past 6 years I am super excited to finally have the desire to learn again. So much so that I have started doing online courses to learn more about design also. While they cannot compete with a bachelor degree in design, it's something for while I'm living in Norway. I have also started work on version 2 of this site. It's a work in progress!

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So it's been a while https://madebydusk.com/journal/so-its-been-a-while Thu, 05 Jun 2014 22:00:00 +0000 Rhys Jones <rj@dusk.is> https://madebydusk.com/journal/so-its-been-a-while This is going to be a long and personal post, so if you have no interest in hearing about my life then stop reading now…

…and if you’re still here then great, it’s going to be nice catching up. It really has been quite some time since I’ve had a permanent online presence, which is a strange thing to say as a web designer right? Plenty has happened in the past 6 years — all of which I’ll try to address in this post — so get comfortable and grab a cup of coffee, this is our catch up call.

Cast your mind back to 2008, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd makes an historic apology to Indigenous Australians and the Stolen Generation, Barack Obama becomes the first African-American to be elected President of the United States, Bill Gates leaves Microsoft and my father passes away… remember that last point, it has a big significance to this story.

Dawn in Canberra, Australia
Dawn in Canberra, Australia

It’s March and my wife has just submitted her finished PhD thesis to the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, where we have spent the past 4 years living and working. I work for a small software company called Tower Software as their in-house web monkey and graphic designer. It’s a great first real job because the people and atmosphere is relaxed, super friendly and creative. I’m given freedom to try things out, which is quite daunting for little 23 year old me.

Roll on April, my wife has accepted a Postdoctoral research position in Umeå, Sweden and I’ve just found out that the rumours were true, Mega Corp™ Hewlett Packard will soon consume Tower Software to feed the belly of the beast. A little dramatic I know, but this is how it felt — at least for me — going from a company of about 200 employees to one of well over 300,000, that’s more than the population of some towns I’ve lived in. So this happens which drags me into May and a meeting with my future boss. I thought this meeting would be over in a matter of minutes since I’m moving to Sweden in just over a months time and they wouldn’t need someone with my skill set, I was very wrong. Instead it went something like this:

  • Me: Hi, nice to meet you, my name is Rhys
  • Boss: Ah perfect! You're the web guy right? Great! I have a project for you!
  • Me: OK, well I’m moving to Sweden in a month so I’m going to have to pass sor—
  • Boss: Sweden? Awesome! They have great metal up there. No worries we can deal with it.
  • Me: So you’re cool with me moving to Sweden and working remotely for you?
  • Boss: Yep!
  • Me: Rad!

The rest of the conversation was about a new Information Management Digital Hub he was setting with my soon to be colleague (and friend, hi Natasha!), heavy metal bands (turned out he collected guitars and loves heavy metal, I kept quiet about my predisposition to 80’s new romantic music) and social media.

So that was it. I was leaving Australia with a new job at HP in San Francisco while working remotely from Sweden.

The departure was everything we expected, lots of tears and heartache. We left a lot of great friends behind that we still miss dearly. However we still had some very important people to visit back home in New Zealand before starting our journey to Sweden, our families. It’s June and my birthday is in full swing, we’re out celebrating at Christchurch’s finest, The Dux Deluxe (a classic watering hole which is now gone thanks to massive earthquakes in 2011, I smoke something in the magnitude of 2 packs of cigarettes and vow to never smoke again.

Farewells are said, tears are shed and the hugs are long… it’s one of those farewells, the hardest kind — or at least I thought at the time, a much harder one is only 3 weeks away. We board a plane going from Christchurch, New Zealand to Los Angeles, then on to New York, then Stockholm, Sweden and then Umeå. It sucks. As most international air travel sucks in cattle class, not enough leg room, shitty meals, shitty people and shitty entertainment. Plus a total travel time of 52 hours thanks to the stop over in New York, the one and only time I have ever eaten a Philly sub for breakfast, sweet baby jesus.

A crisp Swedish river
A crisp Swedish river

At the end of this 2 day ordeal, we step out bleary eyed into a crisp Swedish summer and it’s amazing. The birds are singing, there are fields full of rolling green hills, cool quiet forests and lakes are welcoming, it was absolutely surreal. We are both extremely home sick and jet-lagged, but we’re also very eager to explore our new surroundings. After we sort out our apartment and get some sleep, we set about acquiring some new bikes since Umeå is mostly flat, as is most of Sweden — Norway stole all the mountains.

The next couple of weeks are spent getting settled into our apartment, our new jobs and Sweden. It’s a really exciting time for both of us and it’s the height of the Swedish summer, it’s friggin’ amazing for exploring the countryside.

4pm, July 3rd — 2 weeks into my new job at HP — the phone rings. It’s my brother, he tells me to sit down. I’m confused by this for two reasons, one, it’s 4am in New Zealand and two, why do I need to sit down?

  • Dad’s dead...
  • ...oh, that’s why.

My brother stays on the line, we talk, we cry, we’re confused, most of the call is a blur to me. I hang up and collapse into the arms of my wife, I’m lost and confused. I inform my new boss that I need to go away for some time. An hour later I receive a call from him (new boss, heavy metal dude), he’s in the back of a cab somewhere in London, telling me that my wife and I are booked on the first flight out the following day to New Zealand. Absolutely speechless I choke back the tears enough to say a whimpering thank you and hang up. Bags are packed, more tears are shed, sleep evades me.

Suffice to say a funeral happens and the time was spent grieving with family. After another round-the-world trip we are back in Sweden, winter is closing in, the day light is diminishing and I’m miserable. I feel like the wind has been kicked out of me. I have no confidence in the art I produce or the words I speak. This is how 2008 ends.

A frozen Swedish winter
A frozen Swedish winter

The feeling persists well into 2010 when we move from Sweden to Norway. I’ve skipped over 2009 because I don’t think reading about me grieving for my father would make compelling reading. The time spent in Sweden was great, it’s just I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to enjoy it. Regardless of this I’m grateful that I took up running, cross country skiing and cycling there, it kept me from starting up smoking again, well that and the price of the junk. Sweden was really interesting, a complete reversal of the type of lifestyle we had been living while in Australia. We spent most weekends outside the apartment, either in a tent in some far off forest camping or in a wood cabin tucked away in some mountain range skiing. This helped with taking my mind off my fathers death. In fact a lot of these things I did partially to take my mind off this.

April 2010 is when we arrive in Tromsø, Norway, a small island located 350 km north of the Arctic Circle. We are now about as far away from New Zealand as one can get. The distance from home hurts but I feel revitalized by the landscape, the fjords, the open sea and the snow covered mountains, they are all magnificent. The first two photographs on my Norway collection page are the very first photographs I took in Tromsø. I still love these two, they remind me of the time when I started feeling alive again.

We continue to explore Troms (Troms is the county and Tromsø is the town), my wife starts her new Postdoctoral position at the University of Tromsø (UiT) and I continue working for HP remotely. The next 18 months see us travel all over the globe for work and pleasure, from San Francisco, Las Vegas, Cannes, Zürich, London, Reykjavík, Svalbard, China, Melbourne, Canberra, Christchurch and a myriad of other locations. It was nuts and amazing and most importantly for me at the time, it kept my mind occupied. Though if there is one thing I learned from that period of my life, it’s that one should never spend more than 3 days in Las Vegas, what a cesspool.

Blazing hot green screen
Video shoot in Zürich, Switzerland

Fast-forward to another “working well into the night” evening in July 2011, my wife bursts in with a rather anxious tone to her voice;

  • Her: Guess what?
  • Me: err... what?
  • Her: I’m pregnant!

At this point I knew I had to leave my current job, there was no question about it. We celebrate and try to process exactly what all of this means. What will it be like having a little person who relies solely on you for everything? We are nervous, we can barely take care of ourselves, how are we meant to look after a baby? Do we need a licence to own one of these things? The night draws on and we continue to talk. Arctic winds usher in winter and the baby grows, 2011 comes to a close.

The beginning of 2012 is when many things changed for me. I leave my job at HP and accept a graphic/web design position at ArcticZymes, where I still work to this day, it’s awesome. But more importantly, it’s when I became a father. My daughter was born March 9th, which was a rather moving experience to say the least. All the emotions one experiences in that instant is just overwhelming. I cried a lot, a hell of a lot, but this time I was happy, really, really over the moon happy. My daughter was one of the best things to happen to me in a very long time — the other was marrying my long-term partner in crime.

So begins my journey into fatherhood. All of the sleepless nights, poopy nappies, illness, bad moods, early mornings are totally worth it. This is how most of 2012 is spent. We get to experience the Norwegian social system first hand with their generous maternity leave quotas — something like 14 weeks paid leave just for the father. Which works nicely for us as we can continue working part time.

2012 comes to an end and we spend our first Christmas together as a family in the Arctic. I’m finally catching my wind, my confidence is building once again.

The following year just gets better as my daughter continues to grow and starts walking, then running, then talking and then a whole slew of other seemingly uninteresting things to other people, but to me every single one of them is amazing. She is at kindergarten (barnehage, day care) from the age of 1 and takes to it like a fish to water. My wife and I return to full-time work, we take a family vacation to Croatia and Switzerland, life is grand. I continue to keep my head low though and decide not to work on any of my personal projects — like this website — until a later date. I want to concentrate on trying things out at ArcticZymes, I’m having great fun doing so and I’m going from strength to strength. Actually seeing my work printed in magazines, on posters, being produced into real tangible things, it’s a great feeling. 2013 is a good year and we end it back in New Zealand with the whole family.

Mother and daughter cooling off
Cooling off in Croatia

During this trip there was one event that happened which affected me in such a substantial way, for how simple a gesture it was. I went to visit my father and while I’m placing flowers on his headstone, my daughter runs off, picks some dandelions and places them right next to the flowers I have just placed. Then looks at me sombrely like she understands, like she’s feeling what I’m feeling. For me, I see it as time to stop grieving and time to move on, I have a family of my own now.

So this brings us to present day and my 32nd birthday. If you’ve managed to read this far then you’re pretty much all caught up. I continue to live and work in Norway for the time being. I continue to hone my art. I continue to build confidence.

I’m finally catching my breath.

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