December 2021 Review
January 03, 2022

How this month felt Another short month!

While I love the holidays, quitting my job in November has made it a little hard to get into a good working rhythm. I had a few productive weeks at the beginning of the month before getting distracted by holiday cheer. It pains me to say it, but I’m looking forward to a boring month where I can get a lot of work done!

Let’s see what I did manage to do in December:

Goals From Last Month

Finish the MVP of in time to host trivia next week

Grade: A

Success! It wasn’t necessarily pretty, but I was able to present questions and accept answers entirely through No one reported any issues and it seems like the experience was at least better than submitting through Google Forms (low bar, I know).

Get to an external MVP level

Grade: C

In a normal month, I think this would be finished, but I always forget how hard it is to get things done in December. I’m very happy with where the tools for hosting ended up, though I still need to add a welcome page and some miscellaneous functionality (just unimportant things like accepting payments…).

Build something silly

Grade: A

Check check! I actually built two somethings silly, but one of them was technically a feature of Trivia Night, so I’m not going to count that. The other is discussed in more detail below.

How I Spent My Time This Month

Trivia Night

I spent the vast majority of my working time this month getting Trivia Night to a functional level. I’m trying to be conscious about only building the bare minimum set of features before launching, but it turns out that the bare minimum is still kind of a lot. Non-negotiables include:

  • Page for players to join games
  • Page for players to submit answers
  • A reasonable set of categories for hosts to choose from
  • Page for hosts to select the categories they want in their game
  • Checkout functionality
  • A way for the host to present the game to players
  • Page for the host to score answers

I was hoping to get all of this done by the end of December, but I fell a bit short. Still, I’m quite happy with the current state of tools for hosting and presenting. Now I just need to add the ability for an external user to create a game (and pay me for it). So that will be the top priority going forward.

While I’ve done a good job of staying focused in general, I have let myself get distracted by adding a couple of fun, but unnecessary features, like this Vanna-esque answer reveal:

Wheel of Fortune Style Answer Reveals

Spending a day building a silly feature like that probably falls under the category of yak shaving, but it's also a substantial part of what I enjoy about programming, so I'm willing to live with it. Feel free to stage an intervention if I still don't have anything finished next month!

Projects - Meal Cataloging

Dinner Conversation

My partner and I cook dinner on most nights and we both have below-average tolerance for repetition, which means we spend a good amount of our time trying to come up with new things to cook. When we find something we like, we try to write it down in a shared Google doc to remember in the future. Unfortunately, we often forget, leaving tasty meals to disappear from our lives forever. We’ve long discussed better solutions for keeping track of what we eat, but nothing has stuck. I finally decided to do something about it as a Christmas present / fun diversion.

Using Twilio’s SMS API, I set up a job that texts my partner at 9pm every night asking her what she ate for dinner. She can respond with a description of the meal, any notes she has (changes to make in the future, where the recipe is from, etc.), and a three-point rating (“Not so good”, “Good”, “Definitely make again”). The response is parsed and thrown into a Mongo DB collection that we can search through later.

In the future, I can imagine turning this into a generalized version that you could configure to text you any sort of question at different times, but this simple version is good enough for now. Best of all, the hosting and DB are free! The Twilio API does cost $1.50 per month, which seems like a reasonable price to make sure we aren’t leaving any delicious meals on (off?) the table!

Goals For Next Month

I expect to spend most of my time on Trivia Night again. Here’s what I’d like to get done!

1. Get three people to run a trivia round through Trivia Night

With a little more work, the site will be ready for external hosts! They’ll be able to sign up, select the categories they’d like to use, pay, present the rounds to their friends, and score everyone’s answers. While I’m going to personally test each of these steps as much as possible, nothing beats getting input from others. If you’re reading this and want to be a tester (no charge, obviously), let me know!

2. Clean and publish ten full trivia rounds for external consumption

Even though I have roughly a million trivia questions written, they aren’t quite ready to be published yet. I wrote some automated tooling to pull down all the questions from the Google Sheets that they currently live in, then upload them to Trivia Night’s database, but I’m sure some errors were made in that process. Before publishing, I want to fact-check, proofread, and verify formatting for each question. I don’t think this should take all that long, but it will likely be pretty mind-numbing, so I’ll set a goal of doing ten rounds (400 questions) for this month.

3. Publish another crossword on Black & White Crosswords

In the excitement of quitting my job and working on other projects, I’ve let Black and White Crosswords lay dormant for way too long. In the long run, I’d like to be publishing a new crossword at least once or twice a month, so I’ll try to get started now.

See you next month!