The fish dream and the launch of Netribution

Written by Nic Wistreich on . Posted in dreams

So I decided to give myself the Christmas break - from just after boxing day until the 9th of January when I returned to work to tryand get Netribution 2.0 up online. I ordered one of the most boring christmas presents in memory - Larry Ulman's 'PHP and MySQL for Dynamic Websites' and proceeded to teach myself some basic PHP, beynd what I'd hacked for the websites

Inevitably the 9th grew closer and closer. First there was the mild flu I caught after Christmas. Then there was Hogmanney which in Glasgow is a three day long affair. And then in the middle of last week, with just five days left I learn about Ruby on Rails, and become engrossed by this 'bleeding edge' development platform. If Netribution is going to be around for a while, then it makes sense to get the foundations right so I spent the next couple of days trying to teach myself Rails and Ruby. in between the impressive online demos and tutorials stood this huge cavernous gap between knowing what I want Netribution to do, and how to do that.

Eventually I gave up and returned to PHP and began to stagger through the tutorials for creating a log in system. I should point out here that I am not, nor never have been a coder. I am a blagger, born and bred. Netribution 1.0  was born of me blagging my way around html through GoLive and Dreamweaver. Five years on I have a pretty fair idea of how to build a good  XHTML compliant web page by hand, but it's taken its time coming! Anyway, the point herre, as anyone who has ever coded anything will tell you, you cannot blag your way around code. Oh I'm sure if you know PHP you can blag your way around Perl or CGI, and vice versa. But if you are only just getting your head around classes and variables and functions and objects then blaggin just isn't an option/. Certainly not for a site the size of Netribution.

By now its Friday night. I have only the weekend before my self imposed deadline of returning to work comes up. The hours tick by. I pull up some old pages a coder began to create for Netribution the last time I tried to relaunch it. Hours pass, 2am, 3am, I manage to integrate a few parts of the registration process. 4am, 5am. I barely have a working registration module, least of all a full site or a nice interface. Despondency is sinking in. Could this be the third year running that I announce with great excitement that Netribution is set for relaunch only to then quietly drop the subject. I desperately check the I Ching which only reinforces my sense of gloomy failure. How foolish of me to think I could teach myself coding and build a large communityu driven CMS site. In two days. I mean really. I went to bed in those early hours with the birds awaking and a sweaty deja vu sense of failure.

But my sleep was a curious one. At one stage I was looking after a large fishtank which took the form of a bath tub. A beautiful goldfish the size of a pint glass swam around. but the water was running out. Suddenly (you know the way time jumps in dreams) the water has gone and the fish is flapping around starved of oxygenated air.

I should interject here to describe the event earlier last year that no doubt triggered this dream. In the middle of a quite black depression I was left to look after my sisters fish. (second interjection to say she isn't actually my sister, but rather my mum's first husbands' second wife's child by her first mariage. So sister then.) They had been unfed for a few weeks so I gave her dozen or so tropical fish (which she showed uncharacteristic care for) so I gave them a good amount of food and fell asleep on the sofa. My dreams then were troubled, full of a sense of impending failure and doom, and when I awoke I notcied that most of the fish were floating near the top of the tank. An hour passed and now two of the largest ones were hanging upside down with their heads bobbing upto the surface.

The cold sweat of unintentional mass murder ran through my body. It almost felt like my despair riddled dreams had caused the fish to give up all hope. I ran around pulling my hair and making wailing sounds for 15 minutes. I tried to call my sister who was in Egypt. I stared boggle eyed at the slowly dying fish not knowing what to do.

Then it hit me. I ran to my laptop, googled 'tropical fish forums' and quickly logged in to explain my predicament and emergency. A few minutes passed and someone explained that I must do a change water as quickly as possible. I must make sure that the new water is as warm as the tank water and I should try and neutralise the water with some chemicals that mysister would keep by the tank. I ran around excited now, trying to find suitable basins. In the end I found a washing up bowl, filled it with water, balanced it roughly to the right temperature, added some chemicals drops and began to transfer the fish. Eventually the basin was filled with her fish, and I even added the filter and heater for good measure. It wasn't the best of jobs for the water was barely dee enough to cover the two big fish properly, and they kept splashing out of the water. In fact it could only be a matter of time before they jumped out completely. I found a bigger containers, washed most of the paint out of it and transfered the fish again. At least by now none were hanging upside down or floating by the surface (in fact most were cowering at the bottom of the basin underneath the heater).

I sat down pleased with my efforts. But something didn't quite seem right. What now. Surely the fish wouldn't have to stay in this tank for the next week? It suddenly hit me. What if I had misunderstood their instructions. I ran back to the forum and quickly posted 'I take it by change water you meant change the fish to a different tank?'. Ten long silent minutes passed before someone responded to admit that no, I was supposed to change around 30% of the water IN the tank (keeping the fish in). This fresh water would be free from the toxins currently upsetting the fish.

Now I was close to tears. My attempts at heroism had led to making the matter so much worse. Another 45 minutes worth of pacing around saying 'ohmygod', 'ohmygod' and much worse passed before I decided to go to bed. The fish seemed alive and that was all that mattered. The next day I transfered the fish back into the tank with changed water, and despite two jumping out of the net onto the floor (one of which did its best attempts to escape behind the tank), and in spite of the warnings by the forum that most would probably die, they somehow all survived.

Anyway, this was my fish crisis highlight of last August which is a nice example of the ways web forums are both good and bad things.

Back to my dream. Suddenly there is no water in the tank, and I'm trying to pull this beautiful goldfish out of the plughole where its got trapped. Short of water its orange-gold is turning more putrid battery-farm egg yellow by the minute. Suddenly, (in that sudden way that only happens in dreams) I feel it by my foot, and it has somehow escaped to the floor. Oh this is surely terrible - the fish will die and it will be my fault. But lo I see behind me a basin, which I start to fill with water. And as I do so I see to my left a large fish tank which had the familiar look of having stared in an establishing shot at some point earlier in the dream. Fantastic, I fill it with water and move the fish across and it's back in the water again, looking happy and orangy gold.

On closer inspection it actually seems that there are two fish there. Strange. Perhaps it was pregnant all along and gave birth out of fright, poor thing. But its baby seems awfully big. And then I see a giant - or at least very large - sea slug. And there's a lobster on its back eating it. Which wasn't as disturbing as you'd imagine because, well, lobsters have a rough time generally, while sea slugs aren't top of the menus of most classy restaurants. And then I woke up.

And I did so with an incredible sense of release and wellbeing - the very opposite in fact of what I was feeling the night before. I knew right away that this dream was about netribution, and that it was telling me what to do. I had just the night before decided on the phrase 'creative ecosystem' to describe he site in metatags. And then, all at once the sollution was clear to me. I should use Mambo (or Joomla as it is better now known). Instead of trying to build a Big site from scratch (read fill a basin with water as a makeshift fishtank) I could work from and adapt a Big CMS built by the open source community (ie use the big exciting tank that's sitting there on my server just waiting to be installed).

And the long and short of that dream is I now have a working CMS system, with lots of exciting added functionality. It's 4pm on Sunday and I feel pretty confident I can have something up for Les and Tom to test by tonight. In fact I might also be able to go and see King Kong finally. And rather than spending the last two days tearing my hair out, I've been dancing and smiling and going 'oo, I could do that' as I select more functionality from a very nice interface.

Which winds up as a bit of a plug for, and a very large thanks to Joomla and the Joomla community -