Monthly Archives: November 2017

Are you in the market for an Instant Pot? You should read this before you buy one.


In case you don’t know, the Instant Pot is

a one-size-fits-all kitchen gadget promising to do everything from slow cooking to sautéing, steaming, stewing and yogurt-making (and more).

Sounds amazing. Despite that, you may want to hold off getting one. At least until you read this piece: Instant Pot review: Is the kitchen tool worth the hype? We test it to find out.

To summarize the review: if you had few appliances or wanted fewer appliances, then an Instant Pot may be the way to go. If you already had a slow cooker or pressure cooker or if you prefer to cook in a traditional way, then you may want to spend your kitchen budget on other things.

But read the article and decide yourself. They do a great job analyzing the device and assessing its strengths and weaknesses.

 (Image via Instantpot.com)

Advice on writing is often terrible. The advice of Kazuo Ishiguro is not….


And thanks to Emily Temple, who has compiled much of this advice in one article, which is here:  Kazuo Ishiguro: ‘Write What You Know’ is the Stupidest Thing I’ve Ever Heard at Literary Hub.

Worth reading, both for fans of the author and for writers looking to improve their craft.

(Image via The Paris Review, which has a good interview with Ishiguro here.)

How to be a better conversationalist, starting with 100 questions


When you meet someone at an event or at a party, the inevitable questions come up: What do you do for a living? Where do you live? Whom do you know? These are safe questions, and they lead to tepid conversation most of the time. If such conversations had a colour, it would be beige.

For a list of colourful questions, try some of these (unless beige is your favorite colour)” 100 questions to spark conversation & connection. | Alexandra Franzen

Some of them would still be pretty safe at a work function, such as: What’s your most urgent priority for the rest of the year? Others could lead to some pretty funny stories, such as: What’s something you’ve tried, that you’ll never, ever try again? or What’s the strangest date you’ve ever been on? (These may result in the same story!) Some are fairly personal, such as: What’s one mistake you keep repeating (and repeating)? (You may want to have your own example in case you stump someone). Finally, the last question is one most people should have an answer for, and is likely one that will tell you lots about the person: What are you most grateful for, right now, in this moment?

A great list. Throw some of them in a list on your phone and use them at the next get togther you attend. Better conversations await.

In an alternative universe this is the next hot smartphone


I am unexcited about the direction in Smartphone design. The key design idea that less is more in a phone is becoming Less is a Bore. Perhaps that’s why this design of a Blackberry got me thinking about it. While it still has a gorgeous screen, the phone itself is worthy of looking at and touching. It strikes the right balance. The phone as a design object is worthwhile.

It would have been good if Apple had struck out in a new design direction with the iPhone X. Instead they went with Less is More. Instead we have a phone with the Notch and a camera on the back that sticks out. It’s as if Apple would have preferred not to have these cameras and sensors,  so rather than design the phone to incorporate them into the design, they stick out, figuratively and literally. In a few years from now when Apple has gone in a different direction, Apple fans will look back and exclaim how poor that aspect of the phone design is.

As for now, we live in an age where the screen dominates design, from TVs to smartphones. In the future that may change and the technology that we interact with will be contained in objects that have noteworthy design in them.
For more on this beautifully designed phone, see If BlackBerry Ditched the Keyboard | Yanko Design.

Cozy small bedrooms


Some of you might hate them, but there is something cozy and restful to me in these type of bedrooms: (Really) Small Bedroom Inspiration | Apartment Therapy. 

This one is also nice:

They make me think of sleeping on a train. Good night!

Save money: make your own grain bowls for lunch, starting on Sunday


I think it is great that fast food courts and other eating areas have seen a rise in places serving grain bowls. They are a nutritious alternative to many other meals there.

However, they aren’t cheap, and to be honest, it’s not that hard to make your own grain bowls in 6 easy steps.

Start with this: Healthy Lunch Bento Box Ideas – Bon Appétit | Bon Appetit.

Then cook some grains, roast some vegetables, saute some greens and prepare some proteins. When you get to work, toss on the acid and the dressing and you just saved yourself some money and a trip to the food court.

Quilting as a form of coding


First off, I think the quilts by Elizabeth Elliott are beautiful. Besides their beauty, I found it remarkable how she goes about making them.  According to this piece, Quilts Made of Code by Elizabeth Elliott – Design Milk,  the quilts are designed…

using a programming language called Processing. Through Processing, Elliott edits coding and generates random formations of geometric and traditional quilt block shapes. Afterward, she plays and edits the configuration until it becomes a quilt design she likes.

Here’s one more:

.

Go see the Design Milk article to see more and get more information.

Blogging: still a good idea


Of all the social media that has come along in the last 10 years, blogging is in some ways the best of them all. It allows for a wide range of expression.  It is not ephemeral. It has a freshness to it, but you can look back in a few years and still read it.

I recommend that everyone blogs. Even in 2017. If you are still skeptical, consider this piece: Seth Godin Explains Why You Should Blog Daily — CJ Chilvers

Good news regarding food and agriculture


The good news is this: There’s More Farmland in the World Than Was Previously Thought | Agweb.com.

There are still problems in preventing hunger and famine, but decreasing farmland should not be adding to that. Good! Now to decrease conflicts and ensure everyone has access to good, cheap, nutritious food.

(image via pexels.com)

The further decline of Peter Thiel

The man who threw his lot in with Donald Trump continues to sink in the world. Case in point: Y Combinator Quietly Ends Relationship With Peter Thiel.

Before the Kindle, there was Napoleon’s travelling library

And what a library! Napoleon had asked for it to be as follows:

The Emperor wishes you to form a traveling library of one thousand volumes in small 12mo and printed in handsome type. It is his Majesty’s intention to have these works printed for his special use, and in order to economize space there is to be no margin to them. They should contain from five hundred to six hundred pages, and be bound in covers as flexible as possible and with spring backs. There should be forty works on religion, forty dramatic works, forty volumes of epic and sixty of other poetry, one hundred novels and sixty volumes of history, the remainder being historical memoirs of every period.

Even with slimmed down books, that is a lot of paper to be carrying around as your conquer Europe and other parts of the world. I’m sure he would have loved the Kindle.

For more details on this library, see: Napoleon’s Kindle: See the Miniaturized Traveling Library He Took on Military Campaigns | Open Culture

You need good work tools to be your best at work. Here’s 11 for you to consider


We all get in ruts where we use the same tools every day for our office work. When that happens, what we need is someone to come along with a new list of tools and what makes them great.

Here is such a list. I didn’t create it, but I have used 3 of the 11 tools here and I can say they are key to making me more productive every day. I plan to use the rest of them too, based on the description of them.

Sure, you can do fine with Microsoft Office tools. This list will help you do better: 11 Most Used Tools & Apps Essential to my Work – DESK Magazine

(Image via pexels.com)

Here’s a fine introduction to Avro Pärt

This piece – A guide to Arvo Pärt’s music | Music | The Guardian – is a fine introduction to the music of Avro Pärt. This quote sums up his work well:

The success of Pärt’s work – the repertory of choral works he has composed over the last four decades, the instrumental works, even the new symphony he composed in 2008 – is, I think, much more than simple popular acclaim for a composer who uses some familiar chords. Pärt told me that what he wants his music to express is “love for every note”, and in turn, communicate the spiritual power that he sees as music’s essential purpose. Pärt is too modest to say that he has achieved that, but for the listeners who love his music, it’s an irrefutable truth.

There are lots of places to find his music, including YouTube. Here’s one of my favorite pieces, Spiegel im Spiegel

Enjoy that piece, and hopefully enjoy many hours listening to the music of Part.

The digital beauty of Laura C Hewitt’s ceramics

I love the ceramics of Hewitt, especially for the way she works in digits as part of the overall work. Such as this piece


and this:

Now here’s what’s great. First, you can see more of her work here, at Colossal:
Kernel Panic: New Binary Ceramics Punctuated with Typewriter Keys by Laura C. Hewitt 

Second, you can buy her work here, at her Etsy store!

It’s rare I can share work that is not only beautiful but that you can acquire. Glad I can do that here.

You’ve had a long stressful week. You want to make yourself a simple but great cocktail. Here you go.

It doesn’t get simpler or greater than a Gin and Tonic. Ideal for hot weather, but good all year ’round. Enjoy your drink and your weekend.

For amateur cocktail makers, here all the info you need:
Gin and Tonic Recipe, from  Bon Appetit

You’ve heard of Google’s 8.8.8.8…now there’s 9.9.9.9 (a new DNS service from Quad9/IBM)

If you are using Google’s DNS services (i.e., you are using 8.8.8.8 for DNS services), then there is a new provider on the block you should consider: Quad9. The following links detail why you might want it, as well as how to set it up.

We need all the help we can get in dealing with malicious people and computers on the Internet. Glad to see my employer has a role in this.

A peek inside the sublime new NYC residence designed by the great Zaha Hadid

Fortunate souls walking along New York’s High Line can catch a glimpse of the magnificent building pictured above. Now, thanks to Design Milk, you can get to see what it looks like inside by going here: 520 West 28th Condominium Residence by Zaha Hadid – Design Milk. 

Not surprisingly, it is as gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside. I would love to live there. Take a peek inside and you’ll see why.

Deal with social media better by having less opinions

Word cloud
Social media bombards us with opinions. Such bombardment tugs at us to form our own opinions, but this is is a trap that leads us to be unhappy. As this piece (Free Your Mind by Having Fewer Useless Opinions) argues:

The more opinions you have, the more time and energy you end up wasting to defend those opinions, and the more small amounts of stress you accrue. But the less you have, the more time and energy you have to focus on the deep opinions you have.

I think this is a great idea. There are lots of reasons not to have an opinion on things: you don’t have knowledge on a topic, you don’t have interest on a topic, you prefer to focus your thoughts on other topics. Much of popular culture can be dismissed this way, as can many political scandals.

So let others spend their time fretting and fussing over such things and spend your time focusing on the things you think matter.

Today is World Kindness Day. Here’s 30 ways you can be kind


No doubt you are kind, but the world can always use more kindness. This post  is a list of 30 things you can do to be more kind, to expand your sphere of kindness. Try doing one a day or even one a week. Thank you.

If you can’t find a new movie to watch, you want to rewatch one of these

Why this list of movies? According to Five Thirty Eight, they are the most rewatchable movies of all time. Scanning the list, I see a few of the ones I tend to watch over and over again. Chances are you do too.

Enjoy.

Meanwhile, here’s one of the many great scenes from Casablanca.

It’s the weekend. You should be painting.

Now, you might think: ugh, painting is alot of work. But as this piece shows, there’s some good paint jobs you can do in a weekend that still leaves you time to do other things.

For example, you can paint a door:

Or even just part of a wall, like the moulding:


The piece in Apartment Therapy is worth looking at to get ideas. If you’ve been tired of looking at the same old space and you don’t want to get new furnishings, a splash of paint can do the trick of improving the space.

Another option: do a painting (or buy a painting if shopping vs doing is your thing).  This article has lots of examples, such as this:

And if you think: I suck at art, then read this piece in Hypoallergic about how making art, no matter how bad, can reduce stress.

Now head to the paint store and start your next project.

(See the articles for credits for the pictures.)

I create a super simple set of tools to secure your Ubuntu server

And you can get it here: blm849/supersimplehardening: A super simple way to harden your server.

I create a lot of Ubuntu test servers, and I find that as soon as I create a Ubuntu server on a cloud environment, it gets immediately attacked by automated software. This is obviously a concern. A bigger concern is that when I went  searching for recommendations on how to harden such a server, I found  a wide variety of recommendations! It can be hard to know what to do. Still, I needed something. As a result, I created this package of scripts. The scripts do a number of things:

  • prevent direct root login to your server via ssh. This was one of the things I saw consistently happen and once someone cracks the root access on your machine, it’s game over.
  • stop some basic security holes, like IP spoofing
  • download some useful software, like logwatch, ufw and others
  • upgrade all software on the server

This is just a very very limited number of things to prevent attacks. But it is better than nothing.

If you install Apache, PHP, MySQL or other software on your machine, there are even more attacks that will be launched against it. I recommend you get a firewall up and running and at least run logwatch on a regular basis to look for potential attacks being launched against you.

Finally, if it is important for you to secure your server, don’t stop with my scripts. Go out and consult with IT security specialists right away.

Good luck!

It’s Friday. Here’s a list of 26 things you can do for yourself

Read this list. Pick three. Do them. Your life will be better.

Why three? No reason, other than to make it seem possible. Skip three and just do one. That’s a good start. Or do one every two weeks for the next year. Whatever works for you.

An alternative to decorating with flowers

Is this: decorating with large vases and branches. As you can see from this article, the result is beautiful.

(Image credit: Emily Henderson)

Of course, you can also do flowers:

(Image credit: Design Sponge)

Either way, if you have the space, oversized branches, flowers and vases are dramatic and gorgeous.

For more on this, click the Apartment Therapy link above. Images linked to from that article.

The locked away beauty of the City Hall subway station in New York

The site Hyperallegic has a great piece on the abandoned City Hall subway station in NYC that is worth visiting. Beautiful stuff.

While no longer in use, there seems to be a chance you can tour the station from time to time. Read the piece, then make your plans to see the actual station.

(Images linked to from the piece. Many more great images in the piece you’ll want to see).

A great tool to help you with any 30-day challenge

is this simple calendar:

A very effective way to motivate yourself to take on a new habit or break an old one.
For more on this, head over to Austin Kleon’s web site and this page: 30-day challenge

Thinking about Woodrow Wilson (and other American leaders)


Before this piece, I had limited knowledge of Woodrow Wilson. Most of that was centered on the work he did at the beginning of the 20th century, and much of that came from Margaret McMillan’s book, “The Peacemakers” (in the UK) / Paris, 1919 (in North America)”. My impression of him was a giant, transforming the old world with his ideas and his actions, and it was a transformation that was much needed. The world transformed after the first World War, leaving behind much that was bad, and a lot of that was Wilson’s doing.

However, Wilson racism was a terrible thing, and there is no overlooking it. There is no way to say Wilson was simply a great man: his racism and the discriminatory actions he took stain him permanently. He is a complex man, though, and there is no one scale to measure him on.

This complexity is  true for all American presidents. There is a part of Americans that want to revere their leaders. They build them monuments, they sanctify them, they constantly assess and reassess them, be they Wilson, or Grant, or even Reagan. No doubt this will happen to Obama, too. This desire to sanctify leads to trouble, just as it is leading to trouble in Wilson’s case.

Ideally Americans would spend less time idealizing their past leaders and building them monuments and centers like the one for Wilson. Anything like that should include all the history of the person and the time they lived in. Show the complexity of the person, their strengths and their weaknesses, and highlight both what they achieved and what they failed to achieve. Give a full accounting of the person.

(Image is a link to a photo by Mark Makela for the New York Times)

What I find interesting in tech, November 2017


Here’s an assortment of 42 links covering everything from Kubernetes to GCP and other cloud platforms to IoT to Machine Learning and AI to all sorts of other things. Enjoy! (Image from the last link)

  1. Prometheus Kubernetes | Up and Running with CoreOS , Prometheus and Kubernetes: DeployingKubernetes monitoring with Prometheus in 15 minutes – some good links on using Prometheus here
  2. Deploying a containerized web application  |  Container Engine Documentation  |  Google Cloud Platform – a good intro to using GCP
  3. How to classify workloads for cloud migration and decide on a deployment model – Cloud computing news – great insights for any IT Architects
  4. IP Address Locator – Where is this IP Address? – a handy tool, especially if you are browsing firewall logs
  5. Find a Google Glass and kick it from the networkDetect and disconnect WiFi cameras in that AirBnB you’re staying in– Good examples of how to catch spying devices
  6. The sad graph of software death – a great study on technical deby
  7. OpenTechSchool – Websites with Python Flask – get started building simple web sites using Python
  8. Build Your Own “Smart Mirror” with a Two-Way Mirror and an Android Device – this was something I wanted to do at some point
  9. Agile for Everybody: Why, How, Prototype, Iterate – On Human-Centric Systems – Medium – Helpful for those new or confused by Agile
  10. iOS App Development with Swift | Coursera – For Swift newbies
  11. Why A Cloud Guru Runs Serverless on AWS | ProgrammableWeb – If you are interested in serverless, this is helpful
  12. Moving tech forward with Gomix, Express, and Google Spreadsheets | MattStauffer.com – using spreadsheets as a database. Good for some
  13. A Docker Tutorial for Beginners – More Docker 101.
  14. What is DevOps? Think, Code, Deploy, Run, Manage, Learn – IBM Cloud Blog – DevOps 101
  15. Learning Machine Learning | Tutorials and resources for machine learning and data analysis enthusiasts – Lots of good ML links
  16. Importing Data into Maps  |  Google Maps JavaScript API  |  Google Developers – A fine introduction into doing this
  17. Machine learning online course: I just coded my first AI algorithm, and oh boy, it felt good — Quartz – More ML
  18. New Wireless Tech Will Free Us From the Tyranny of Carriers | WIRED – This is typical Wired hype, but interesting
  19. How a DIY Network Plans to Subvert Time Warner Cable’s NYC Internet Monopoly – Motherboard – related to the link above
  20. Building MirrorMirror – more on IT mirrors
  21. Minecraft and Bluemix, Part 1: Running Minecraft servers within Docker – fun!
  22. The 5 Most Infamous Software Bugs in History – OpenMind – also fun!
  23. The code that took America to the moon was just published to GitHub, and it’s like a 1960s time capsule — Quartz – more fun stuff. Don’t submit pull requests 🙂
  24. The 10 Algorithms Machine Learning Engineers Need to Know – More helpful ML articles
  25. User Authentication with the MEAN Stack — SitePoint – if you need authentication, read this…
  26. Easy Node Authentication: Setup and Local ― Scotch – .. or this
  27. 3 Small Tweaks to make Apache fly | Jeff Geerling – Apache users, take note
  28. A Small Collection of NodeMCU Lua Scripts – Limpkin’s blog – Good for ESP users
  29. Facebook OCP project caused Apple networking team to quit – Business Insider – Interesting, though I doubt Cisco is worried
  30. Hacked Cameras, DVRs Powered Today’s Massive Internet Outage — Krebs on Security – more on how IoT is bad
  31. Learn to Code and Help Nonprofits | freeCodeCamp – I want to do this
  32. A Simple and Cheap Dark-Detecting LED Circuit | Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories – a fun hack
  33. Hackers compromised free CCleaner software, Avast’s Piriform says | Article [AMP] | Reuters – this is sad, since CCleaner is a great tool
  34. Is AI Riding a One-Trick Pony? – MIT Technology Review – I believe it is and if AI proponents are not smart they will run into another AI winter.
  35. I built a serverless Telegram bot over the weekend. Here’s what I learned. – Bot developers might like this.
  36. Google’s compelling smartphone pitch – Pixel 2 first impressions | IT World Canada News – The Pixel 2 looks good. If you are interested, check this out
  37. Neural networks and deep learning – more ML
  38. These 60 dumb passwords can hijack over 500,000 IoT devices into the Mirai botnet – more bad IoT
  39. If AWS is serious about Kubernetes, here’s what it must do | InfoWorld – good read
  40. 5 Ways to Troll Your Neural Network | Math with Bad Drawings – interesting
  41. IBM, Docker grow partnership to drive container adoption across public cloud – TechRepublic – makes sense
  42.  Modern JavaScript Explained For Dinosaurs – fun

Monday goal: stop using business jargon


Something to consider for the work week is to try and not use any of the phrases found in this piece. I can’t say I agree with their substitutions. Best to leave the cliches behind and strive for clear English.

Once we get rid of all the bad business cliches, we can strive to clean the world of bad office stock photos like the one above 🙂

P.S. If you don’t use those cliches, that’s great. Another thing to consider is starting a bingo card and score it every time you see or hear one of those cliches at work. Chances are you will fill your card by Friday.

Sunday night suppers: grilled cheese with balsamic roasted vegetables 

Here’s a simple little supper to get more vegetables in your life:
Grilled Cheese with Balsamic Roasted Vegetables | A Cup of Jo

Perfect for early suppers, especially as the weather gets chillier. Great way to use up any vegetables in your fridge, too. With this recipe — really a guide more than anything else — you can make all kinds of different sandwiches.

An odd thing happened to me on seeing Blade Runner 2049 for the third time

The first time I saw Blade Runner 2049, I found myself continually comparing it to the first Blade Runner. I loved it but I could not think of it without thinking about the first film.

The second time I saw it, I watched it for the details. It is an incredibly detailed film, and I found myself watching it for the all fine workmanship in the film (like the Japanese characters on the buttons of the jukebox that you barely see).

The third time I saw it, I saw the film in itself. That was the odd thing. It took me three tries to see the film as a narrative about these mostly new characters. I saw the film the way I would normally see any film that’s new. The other odd thing was that the film seemed to move faster the third time around than the first time. I thought it was slow the first time around and it was compared to the original film. But without that context and having absorbed all the details, I found the storytelling tight and essential.

I plan to see it many times. I think it is a masterpiece and every viewing yields something I missed in previous viewings. You may not want to watch it several times but I recommend you watch it more than once. You will be rewarded the second (or third) time you see it.

Beautiful Dense Wire Tree Sculptures 

The wire tree sculptures by Clive Maddison are worth a look. Amazing transformation of simple wire into a complex sculpture. From Colossal. Link here: Dense Wire Tree Sculptures by Clive Maddison

What do you get when you mix architects and cats?


Some pretty wild cat homes, as you can see here: Inspired Outdoor Cat Shelters by Architects for Animals – Design Milk.

It’s worth checking out the article: some of the things architects build for their cats is really incredible. (Also there is a good chance the cat will just ignore it and go and squeeze into a nearby box).

The 5 Home Lists You Should Make (And Keep) 

A very smart list of things you should have to make your home better: The 5 Home Lists You Should Make (And Keep) via Apartment Therapy.

And if you want to set up a blackboard wall like that, you can get them by here

What is wrong with minimalism (and how to fix that)

What is wrong with minimalism? If you were to read this piece by Mark Manson on the Disease of More, you would be right in thinking that less is what we need. The less you have, the better off you should be. In which case, approaching minimalism should be the idea.

Yet minimalism taken to an extreme is just another form of More is Better, which seems to be the point of this Guardian article, Minimalism: another boring product wealthy people can buy.  (And the truth is, minimalism can be difficult to achieve, as this article shows.)  So, is minimalism a good idea or not? Should you give up on minimalism?

What both minimalist and anti-minimalists miss in their arguments is what is required to have a good life. What should be pursued is not to have more because more is better, or having less because less is better, but to have just what is essential for you to have a good life.

Of course what is essential depends on who you are. For some, this is a perfect environment:


For others, it’s this:

There is nothing wrong with a minimal environment if that is essential for you to be happy and content. Likewise, having a room jam packed with stimulating items may be essential to you.  You have to decide for yourself, rather than sticking with a simple formula of Less is More or More is More.

What you should have is  what is essential for you to live a good life. The fix for minimalism is essentialism. Preferably a lean essentialism. But again, that is up to you.