Category Archives: advice

Advice for all you frustrated artists out there (including me)

Sometimes you can get so hung up about making art you don’t make anything at all. This could be due to several reasons. For example, if you are worried about your style, read this. If you are frozen because you wonder if you are you good enough to be an artist, go here. You can also read this: how to boldly pursue your artistic calling even if youre riddled with self doubt. If you wonder if your art is good enough to sell, click this. For an example, see how this artist  sells art on etsy.

If you think you are no good, get over yourself and read:  7 sins of beginner artists what keeps you from being good and 21 days to be a better artist. If you think you have no skill, head over to this: create art without skill and this: you can draw and probably better than i can. If you think you need to go to art school, read: don’t go to art school. If you think you are too old: why it’s never too late to become an artist. If you need some prompts, go here: Some good prompts from Inktober.

If nothing else, make yourself a zine. Here’s advice on making a zine, on how to fold a zine, and how to make a one page zine. Here’s some zine advice and more zine goodness is there.



How to find your purpose in life

The folks at Vox have a good guide on how to find your purpose in life. According to them, your purpose…

  • is a long-term calling, act, or way of life that interests you
  • something you have some competence in
  • makes a marginal difference in the world

For some people, their purpose is obvious. Their work is their purpose. Or their role as a parent or sibling gives them purpose. Some gain purpose from acts of kindness. Others get it from creative tasks.

If you want some guidance on discovering your purpose, I recommend this: What do I do with my life? Here’s a non-stressful approach to finding your purpose. – Vox

A good reminder for the start of the weekend

I found this image on Instagram some time ago and I kept a digital clipping of it to remind me to make stuff even if the only person that cares about it is me. I would advise you to do the same. Sometimes I imagine an audience that does like whatever I make, but I am fine to make it just for me. Kids are like that, and they’re happier as a result. We should be more like kids, like the kid we once were. Make things and be happy with the making of it. Even if you immediately toss it aside. For making stuff can do wonders for us.

Happy Friday. Make something this weekend: a poem, a salad, a chalk drawing, a record of some sort. You’ll be better because of it.

How I am playing Wordle these days using Wordlebot as a guide and an opponent :)

If you like playing Wordle, then you should make a guide and an opponent of Wordlebot. I check it every time I finish Wordle.

Using Wordlebot as a guide, I noted which words it used first and second. Based on my notes it seems to always use SLATE as the first word. Of the second word I noticed it uses, CRONY is a common choice. That makes sense: those two words give you AEO and Y as well as CNRST. I find I can get a lot of matches this way. And if I don’t, I know the third word has an O or a U, and the remaining letters are easier to choose from.

Often I will play SLATE and then play CRONY even if I have matches with SLATE. My goal these days is to get it in three. I will only go for it in 2 if there is a good chance I can. (Like one day this month when the word was PLATE.) Currently the majority of my scores are 4: my goal is get the majority to 3. I am not sure that is possible, but it is what I’m aiming for.

While Wordlebot is a good guide, I also use it as an opponent. My hope here is to win by getting the word in less tries than Wordlebot. It does not happen too often. My next best hope is to tie Wordlebot but get a lower luck score. If we tie in tries but it has a high luck score, I also consider that a win.

One reason it is hard to beat Wordlebot is due to the eliminate process it uses. While the first word it uses tends to be SLATE, if it gets matches, it may play a word that comes from out of the blue but it is not. Wordlebot seems to calculate what possible words could solve the puzzle and then play a word to help eliminate them. If I had the ability to do the same, I would! Most of the time I do something less mentally taxing.

Wordle is a fun game, still. I especially love that people still post their scores on twitter. I consider it watercooler material. (“How’dya do on Wordle last night, Bob?” “Got it in 3” “Whoa, nice. Ok, have a good day” :)) Like Wordle, I don’t take Twitter too seriously either. The two go good together, like chocolate and peanut butter.

For more thoughts on the game, take a peek at this: Wordle is fun again. Here’s why that is for me…. | Smart People I Know


How to get better sleep using your Apple Watch and the Health app

I wear my Apple Watch every night while I sleep, and I have found it’s been helping me sleep better.

My watch sends a ton of information to my phone during the day, including information about how I am sleeping. When I wake in the morning, I head over to the Sleep summary in the Health app on my iPhone and check how I did that night. Here’s an example:

You can see this was a pretty good night for me. I slept for 7 hours, and I managed to get in a fairly decent amount (for me) of deep sleep. I don’t know if this is typical for most people, but it is for me. I have a number of deep sleep periods, about 4 periods of REM sleep, and the rest is core sleep. You can see I woke up twice, but barely for any time at all. I also found I was refreshed and alert the next morning. 

That wasn’t typical though. If you look below, you see my sleep for the week:

There’s quite a number of days where I was awake for large periods of time. Every day I would wake up and see that and think: what can I do to fix that? Some days it would be something simple, like the room was too warm. Or I ate too late. Other days it is due to more difficult things like too much stress. (Stressful days tend to cause other issues, like eating badly, which compounds the problem.) 

Before I had this data, I would let myself sleep badly for a long stretch of time. Now when I start seeing I am not getting enough sleep, I work hard to get the right conditions to get a better sleep the next night.

There are plenty of things you can do to maintain good health: eat well, exercise, and sleep well. The Apple Watch can help with all of those things. If you can get one with these features, I highly recommend it.

P.S. Why is deep sleep important? It could be the time your brain gets cleaned. To see what I mean, go here.

On the snowdrops in the yards of others

Someone on my street was kind enough to plant snowdrops in their front yard. Last week they were bursting from the ground and giving me the hope I always feel when I see them. Seeing snowdrops, I know winter is over: seeing snowdrops I know spring is starting. I love the significance of this small white flower. They’re a beautiful reminder.

If you are ever wondering about planting flowers in your front yard, I encourage you to do so. I am sure I am not the only one who walks by such beauties and feels joy. You will be giving a gift to the world with whatever you plant. How great is that?

How to travel in style and do it lightly

If you want to travel in style, then you owe it to yourself to read this: Dining in Style, at 90 Miles an Hour: Train travel is thriving in Central Europe, and so are dining cars. We rode the rails from Prague to Zurich and beyond, sampling regional dishes and savoring the views. It will have you looking up seats for the next trip.

If you want to travel lightly, read this: I Lived Out Of A Carry-On For 6 Weeks & Found My Personal Style Along The Way. You may not want to live out of a carry-on for 2 weeks, never mind 6, but the writer did and did well.


Thursday is a good day to be productive. A playlist can help

Thursday is a great day to be productive: you just got over hump day (i.e., Wednesday) and if you can get a lot done today, you can feel more relaxed as you head into Friday and then the weekend.

If you have your own playlists, I recommend you put them on. If you do not, that head over to and read this: A Good WFH Playlist Is the Difference Between a Slow Day and a Productive One. They have a number of lists from various people: one of them is bound to help put you in a mood to GTD (get things done) as you WFH (work from home).

Happy Thursday!

So you want to stop shopping at Loblaw and you need an alternative but you are stuck. Here’s what you can do

Maybe you’ve read articles like this, Loblaw gave ‘underpaid’ CEO Galen Weston a $1.2 million raise last year, and thought: I ought to switch from buying my groceries from Loblaw and go somewhere else.  But what to do?

If that’s you, consider this. If there is a Walmart near you that sells groceries, go to the Walmart. And if there is not a Walmart near you but there is one on Instacart, then sign up for Instacart and buy your groceries that way.

I have been shopping at Walmart via Instacart for well over a year now and during this time I have been very satisfied with the goods I’ve received from them. The produce is excellent, the meat is excellent, the commodity goods are fine, and both high end and low cost items (“Great Value” vs “No Name”) are good. Most importantly for me, the savings are substantial. It never ceases to amaze me how the exact same product can be $0.50-$5.00 less at Walmart than Loblaw or Metro. Other than price, there is no difference in terms of what you get. You are essentially paying a Loblaw tax (or Metro tax) for buying from them.

I understand why people like shopping at Loblaw: the stores are pleasant, they have great selection, and their President’s Choice brand is still a treat. But you are paying a high premium for that.

Should you switch to Metro or Farm Boy or some other place? Not if you want to save money. What about No Name from Loblaw? Well, I checked it out, and many of the No Name products are still more expensive than every day Walmart products.

For more on this, see this article I wrote earlier this year. It has details on how the savings from Walmart add up.

If you want to keep shopping at Loblaw, it’s up to you. But if you do want to switch, you can.



The Gartner Hype Cycle: one good way to think about technological hype

Below is the Gartner hype cycle curve with it’s famous five phases:

For those not familiar with it, the chart below breaks it down further and helps you see it in action. Let’s examine that.

Chances are if you are not working with emerging IT and you start hearing about a hyped technology (e.g., categories like blockchain, AI), it is in the phase: Peak of Inflated Expectations. At that stage the technology starts going from discussions in places like Silicon Valley to write ups in the New York Times.  It’s also in that phase two other things happen: “Activity beyond early adopters” and “Negative press begins”.

That’s where AI — specifically generative AI — is: lots of write ups have occurred, people are playing around with it, and now the negative press occurs.

After that phase technologies like AI start to slide down into my favorite phase of the curve: the Trough of Disillusionment. It’s the place where technology goes to die. It’s the place where technology tries to cross the chasm and fails.

See that gap on Technology Adoption Lifecycle curve? If technology can get past  that gap (“The Chasm”) and get adopted by more and more people, then it will move on through the Gartner hype curve, up the Slope of Enlightenment and onto the Plateau of Productivity. As that happens, there is less talking and more doing when it comes to the tech.

That said, my belief is that most technology dies in the Trough. Most technology does not and cannot cross the chasm. Case in point, blockchain. Look at the hype curve for blockchain in 2019:

At the time people were imagining blockchain everywhere: in gaming, in government, in supply chain…you name it. Now some of that has moved on to the end of the hype cycle, but most of it is going to die in the Trough.

The Gartner Hype Curve is a useful way to assess technology that is being talked about, as is the Technology Adoption Curve. Another good way of thinking about hype can be found in this piece I wrote here. In that piece I show there are five levels of hype: Marketing Claims, Exaggerated Returns, Utopian Futures, Magical Thinking, and Othering. For companies like Microsoft talking about AI, the hype levels are at the level of Exaggerated Returns. For people writing think pieces on AI, the hype levels go from Utopian Futures to Othering.

In the end, however you assess it, its all just Hype. When a technology comes out, assess it for yourself as best as you can. Take anything being said and assign it a level of hype from 1-5. If you are trying to figure out if something will eventually be adopted, use the curves above.

Good luck!

A handy guide to spotting AI generated images

Well, two handy guides. One from the Verge and one from the Washington Post. The Verge talks about the phenomenon in general, while the Post is more specific.

It’s possible that the AI software that generates imagery will get better. But for now, those guides are helpful in spotting fakes.

(Image from the Verge. It is highlighting things to look for: weird hands, illegibility, odd shadows.)

Who knows how to clean an oven? Southerners do

Let me back that up: the Southerners of Southern Living do. They have oven cleaning tips here and here and specific tips on how to clean your oven door, here and how to clean oven racks, here.

Cleaning ovens may be a regular activity for some of you. Bless your heart. For the rest of us, it’s a good thing to do during spring cleaning. If you are like me and haven’t a clue how to start, check those articles out.

P.S. Southern Living has lots of advice on cleaning and more. Recommended.

(Image via a link to Southern Living.)

How to improve yourself this weekend

For some, the weekend is either a time of relaxing or a time of catching up.  I think that it can always be a time to improve yourself in some way. Here’s some ideas for you:

Get a hobby: Here’s a good piece on how to start a hobby. Perhaps drawing could be that hobby. Here’s how to get over yourself and start drawing. And if even if you don’t think you are very good, remember:  drawing can also be good for your mental mental health.

Improve your plant game: Plants make me and others happy. If you feel the same, maybe take some time this weekend and upgrade your plants: here’s when its time to repot indoor plants.

Get fitter: start with this piece, two simple ways to get fitter faster. If you need exercise routines, try these, fitness routines from Darebee. Or use this: strength training. Some people do better with devices to help them. If that’s you, then use this device to improve your fitness.

Like drawing, fitness can help you in many ways. For example, read this: How To Reframe Your Relationship With Exercise. And don’t forget, fitness is more than exercise. It is also about eating well. Here how you can eat  better:  4 easy strategies for adding more vegetables to your plate.

Get fashionable: sometimes new clothes can help you get out there. If that’s you, I recommend these new balance 574h hiking sneakers, the new balance 997h ice blue sneakers, this intro ponto footwear. Maybe even  jordan system23 clogs .

Finally, here’s a guide to  stop ruminating, if that’s something you do.

Regardless of what you decide to do, I hope your weekend is a good one.

On Lent, Sacrifice, and Giving Things Up

Atheists and agnostics like myself sometimes find themselves longing for or at least missing elements of the religious life. (Alain de Botton explored this in his book, Religion for Atheists.) One of these are periods of reflection and sacrifice, like Lent. Some people support something like a secular Lent, while others argue that “secular Lent” misses the point, and that:

Lent, fundamentally, is about facing the hardest elements of human existence — suffering, mortality, death. That the season has turned into giving up Twitter shows that we haven’t gotten good at talking about them yet.

Agreed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from making personal sacrifices for a period of time in order to see yourself and your place in the world in a new and different way. A period of chosen sacrifice can be a spiritual practice no matter what you believe. And choosing to do it at this time of year may be the best time to do it.

If you agree and you want help with quitting something, this can help. If you want to know more about Lent, this can help. If you are not religious but this appeals to you, consider reading de Botton’s book.

Good luck with whatever you decide to do.

Crime stopper tips if you are buying goods from Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace

Chances are if you buy goods from Kijiji or Facebook Marketplace you will be fine. Most stories I know of have been positive. Still, you are taking a risk buying or selling goods to strangers. To reduce the risks, read this: Toronto police warn of thefts involving Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace sales.

I would not recommend large cash transactions either. If you are about to meet a thief who knows exactly how much you are bringing to your exchange point, that is a recipe for disaster.

Stay safe, shop well. Good luck!

The grimness of being a veterinarian

This piece in Slate on veterinarians is very good and very grim: Our Business Is Killing. It’s all about the centrality of euthanasia when it comes to being a vet, and how that responsibility — killing animals effectively — takes a huge hit on all the humans involved.

Being a vet is a great thing and it can bring much happiness to people and pets. But anyone considering choosing that profession should read that Slate piece first.

Be more than your role(s) in life

We all play roles in life. We start off as someone’s child. Then we become students. Later on we take on work roles and community roles. Roles help us know what is expected of us and what we should do. But roles limit us as well.

In thinking about your role, this quote from Hunter S. Thompson on the blog NITCH is a good one to ponder as you head into the week:

We do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES. But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors…but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal… Beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.”

William Makepeace Thackeray had another good quote: “Whatever you are, be a good one.” So whatever roles you are playing, play them well. But don’t define your life by that role, and don’t limit your striving to be just that role. If you limit yourself that way, you may become lost if the role disappears or you tire of it. Decide to live for more than just your roles, and your life will be richer and have more meaning.


On the importance of down/transition days during vacation

If you are going away on vacation from work, make sure you have some down/transition days at the start and end of it. At the end of vacation, having a day off between vacation and starting work will make it easier to begin your work day. Likewise at the start of your vacation, having an easy day after work but before travelling should make it less stressful and tiring for you.

I did not do this on a recent vacation I was on. I went from a busy week at work and home right into travelling for my vacation. I still went out after arriving at my destination and it was enjoyable, but I was also exhausted by the end of the evening. Likewise I arrived home on a Sunday evening and went to work the next morning. Again I managed it, but it was hard to shift from vacation mode to work mode. In both cases, a down day at the start and end of my vacation would have been good.

As well, have some down days in your vacation. It’s tempting to schedule non-stop activities for your whole time away. If you can manage it, fine. But try and have some low key days mixed in there. You may find your overall vacation more enjoyable that way. I did.

It’s tempting to sprint your way through from work to vacation and back to work. For short trips, that may be fine. For longer trip, pace yourself and give yourself permission to do low key days, especially at the beginning and end.

You had a month. Here’s the 13 work tips you now need.

Normally I like to give tips for the new year in January, but in some ways you need work tips in February. In January you are still transitioning from the holidays and work may seem fresh. By February you are reminded of the difficulties you have with your job.

If that sounds right to you, I have 13 work tips for the new year. Is there anything radically new there? Not really. But sometimes what we need is a common sense set of reminders. Have you set your goals for the year? Do you know your priorities? Things like that.

Here’s a test for you. If you say, I know that! I know my goals! Great: so write them down. Same for your priorities. How productive you are. Et cetera. If you find you cannot write them down, you know now what to think about and what to work on for a less stressful and more successful work year.

Good luck!

Having a bad day? Everyone has them. Even the greats, like Darwin

To see what I mean, check out this letter he wrote to To Charles Lyell on October 1st, 1861.. Towards the bottom of it he comments:

But I am very poorly today & very stupid & hate everybody & everything. One lives only to make blunders.

Sounds familiar to anyone having a bad day. If you are having one right now, maybe do what Darwin would do and go for a walk. It can’t hurt!

How to break bad habits. Now with science.

Do you have bad habits? Of course you do: we all do. And January is likely the month we are most likely to want to break those bad habits. Which may be why you are reading this.

If you’re thinking it’s too hard, I’ve have this good  piece in: Wired on how you can effectively do that. They talk to neuroscientists and psychologists to show how you can get on the right track to better habits. Specifically, there are two areas they think you should focus on:

  • The Power of Data, Environmental Factors, and History
  • Picking Your Habit, Digging Deeper, and Creating a Plan

That’s pretty classic stuff, by the way. Logging and planning are the two fundamental things you need to do if you are going to chance.

Read it for yourself and decide. Good luck with those upcoming changes.

Instacart tips, (some) from Food & Wine and (lots from) me

Over at Food & Wine, they have a good set of tips on: How to Be a Better Instacart Customer. Some of them are blatantly obvious (“Don’t Weaponize Your Tips”…yeah, no kidding) and others are good reminders (“If you don’t communicate clearly, shoppers can’t do their job.”)

I’ve been using it for awhile, and I like it. Here’s some tips from me that I find make my shopping experience better:

  • Use the Buy it Again feature. It can save you time.
  • If you are going through the Buy it Again feature, you can always search for something new, then come back to where you were in Buy it Again.
  • Double check your order before you order it. You might find you ordered two or more similar items. You can also take the time to delete those impulse items you threw in your cart.
  • It can be faster to add things to your cart at first and then delete before you buy, rather than looking up things one at a time.
  • Get creative on your searches. Typing the name of a cuisine (e.g. Chinese) might not only show your products you expect, but some you did not that you might be keen to order.
  • Check your order as soon as it arrives. I put mine away once and only hours later did I realize that I was missing a whole bag of food.
  • If you are missing things, let Instagram know. Hey, it doesn’t often happen, but it can happen. They will credit you if you are missing something. And when I have received something I shouldn’t, they let me just keep it. YMMV.
  • Be available for when you will be getting the order. You don’t want your order sitting outside for ages.
  • Book your order for later if you can. You can save a couple of bucks that way. But you should know that  it will often come earlier than you signed up for. The idea seems to be to get you your order ASAP.
  • Be specific where you want your order. I tell people not to put it in front of my door, because it opens out, not in, and I can’t get out to get the food if it blocks the door.
  • Look for things that are in stock. You are less likely to be disappointed.
  • Look for deals. Not everyone has them. Walmart, for instance, used to have them, but not anymore (at least in Toronto).
  • Comparison shop between stores. You may be shocked by the differences. But don’t get fooled by loss leaders: you might save on a few items, only to end up paying out more in the end.
  • Make sure you have Replacements listed for things you really need to have. If you really need eggs or milk, make sure you have a good replacement (e.g. XL eggs instead of large, 1% milk instead of 2%).
  • Don’t assume all shoppers will look for replacements and ask you. Some are great, others seem to just refund many things. Most are really good, in my experience.”

Do you log or journal? I recommend you do in 2023. Here’s why….

I was reviewing my logs and journals for 2022 just now. I was happily reminded of the good times I had as well as the difficult moments I had to deal with last year. I’m glad I took the time to record all that.

If you can, I recommend you do the same. Reading about your good times can make you feel good about your life. And reading about the difficulties you had to deal with can make you appreciate how well you deal with things.

Writing about good times is fairly easy. Writing about difficult times is not. To log my difficult moments, I phrase them in the way of praise. So instead of writing something like:

Absolute disaster at work this week. I hate my project!

I’ll write:

kudos for dealing well with the difficulties at work this week by persevering and staying calm

I find phrasing it that way helps to read about it later. (This is my approach: you may be fine with going with the first approach.) It also reminds my brain that I can deal with similar difficulties in the future.

Be prolific if you can. Note simple observations. Consider all your senses. Write down many good memories and good feelings you had throughout the year. It’s easy to forget about them, but like snapshots, just reading them will bring back vividly thoughts and emotions you want to recall years from now.

Log them using the media best suited for you. You might covet one of those One Line a Day journals. You might like scribbling in a plain notebook. Some people might default to their smartphone and social media to log things. (I find Instagram is good with that….Twitter…not so much.)

I depend on a little program I wrote called easylog that I use to record things. It stores the information both in a local XLSX spreadsheet and a Google spreadsheet. Of course there are countless ways you can log or journal, but that suits me. It takes me a few minutes every day…no time at all, really.

Good luck. I wish you fond memories of 2023.

P.S. This post was inspired by posts from bloggers I admire:

Austin Kleon in particular is a master at logging things. You might not want to do it to the extent he does (at first), so start with just a line or two. You’ll be glad in 6 months, a year, two years from now when you get to re-read them.

I was almost inspired to write my own wonderful things in 2022 in a blog post, but I am trying to focus my social media content to things that benefit people vs things about myself.   My goal is to have a ratio closer to 80:20 or even 90:10 (posts benefitting people: posts about myself). Let’s see.

It’s 2023…here’s how to keep those New Year’s resolutions (if you want)

It’s a new year. And let’s face it, you have some new year’s resolutions. (Why else are you reading this?)

If you want to try and keep them, then I highly recommend that you read this:  How to make New Year resolutions you can actually keep.

Yes, it is mostly stuff you old people may have read before. In that case, it’s a good refresher course for you. For younger people, that’s a good list to read and consider.

I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. I think it’s good to resolve to change/improve your life, but I don’t think January 1st is the best time to do that. Some argue it’s February, and I tend to agree. Birthdays are also a good time to do that. So is the beginning of a new season.

If you MUST make a resolution in January, make it this one. If you are stuck and don’t know what to do, I have tons of posts here on resolutions. Perhaps one of them can help.

All the best to you.


My notes on falling to build a Mastodon server in AWS (they might help you)

Introduction: I have tried three times to set up a Mastodon server and failed. Despite abandoning this project, I thought I would do a write up since some people might benefit from my failure.

Background: during the recent commotion with Twitter, there was a general movement of people to Mastodon. During this movement, a number of people said they didn’t have a Mastodon server to move to. I didn’t either. When I read that Dan Sinker built his own, I thought I’d try that too. I’ve built many servers on multiple cloud environments and installed complex software in these environments. I figured it was doable.

Documentation: I had two main sources of documentation to help me do this:
Doc 1:
Doc 2

Doc 1 is the official Mastodon documentation on how to build your own server. Doc 2 is a guide to installing a minimal Mastodon server on Amazon EC2.

Attempt #1: I followed Doc 2 since I was building it on an EC2 instance. I did not do the AWS pre-reqs advised other than create the security groups since I was using Mailgun for smtp and my domain was elsewhere at namecheap.

I did launch an minimal Ubuntu 22.x server that was a t2.micro, I think (1 vCPU, 1 GiB of memory). It was in the free tier. I did create a swap disk.

I ran into a number of problems during this install. Some of the problems I ran into had to do with versions of the software that were backlevelled compared to doc 1 (e.g. Ruby). Also I found that I could not even get the server to start, likely because there just is not enough memory, even with the swap space. I should have entered “sudo -I” from the start, rather than putting sudo in from of the commands. Doing that in future attempts made things easier. Finally, I deleted the EC2 instance.

Attempt #2: I decided to do a clean install on a new instance. I launched a new EC2 instance than was not free and had 2 vCPU and 2 GiB of memory. I also used doc 1 and referred to doc 2 as a guide. This time I got further. Part of the Mastodon server came up, but I did not get the entire interface. When I checked the server logs (using: journalctl -xf -u mastodon-*) I could see error messages, but despite searching for them, I couldn’t see anything conclusive. I deleted this EC2 instance also.

Attempt #3: I wanted to see if my problems in the previous attempts were due to capacity limitations. I created a third EC2 instance that had 4 vCPU and 8 GiB of memory. This installation went fast and clean. However despite that, I had the same type of errors as the second attempt. At this point I deleted this third instance and quit.

Possible causes of the problem(s) and ways to determine that and resolve them:
– Attempt the installation process on a VM/instance on another cloud provider (Google Cloud, Azure, IBM Cloud). If the problem resolves, the cause could be something to do with AWS.
– Attempt this on a server running Ubuntu 20.04 or Debian 11, either on the cloud or a physical machine. If this resolves, it could be a problem with the version of Ubuntu I was running (22.x): that was the only image available to me on AWS.
– Attempt it using the Docker image version, either on my desktop or in the cloud.
– Attempt to run it on a much bigger instance. Perhaps even a 4 x 8 machine is not sufficient.
– See if the problem is due to my domain being hosted elsewhere in combination with an elastic IP address by trying to use a domain hosted on AWS.

Summary: There are other things I could do to resolve my problems and get the server to work, but in terms of economics: the Law of Diminishing Returns has set in, there are opportunity costs to consider, the sunk costs are what they are, and the marginal utility remaining for me is 0. I learned a lot from this, but even if I got it working, I don’t want to run a Mastodon server long term, nor do I want to pay AWS for the privilege. Furthermore, I don’t want to spend time learning more about Ruby, which I think is where the problem may originate. It’s time for me to spend my precious time on technologies that are personally and professionally better rewarding.

Lessons Learned: What did I learned from this?

– Mastodon is a complicated beast. Anyone installing it must have an excellent understanding of Linux/Unix. If you want to install it on AWS for free, you really must be knowledgeable. Not only that, it consists of not only its own software, but nginx, Postgres, Redis and Ruby. Plus you need to be comfortable setting up SSL. If everything goes according to the doc, you are golden. If not, you really need an array of deep skills to solve any issues you have.

– Stick with the official documentation when it comes to installing Mastodon. Most of the many other pages I reviewed were out of date or glossed over things of note.

– Have all the information you need at hand. I did not have my Mailgun information available for the first attempt. Having it available for the second attempt helped.

– The certbot process in the official document did not work for me. I did this instead:
1) systemctl stop nginx.service
2) certbot certonly –standalone -d (I used my own domain and my personal email and replied Y to other prompts.)
3)  systemctl restart nginx.service

– Make sure you have port 80 open: you need it for certbot. I did not initially for attempt 3 and that caused me problems. I needed to adjust my security group. (Hey, there are a lot of steps: you too will likely mess up on one or two. :))

– As I mentioned earlier, go from the beginning with: sudo -i

– Make sure the domain you set up points to your EC2 instance. Mine did not initially.

Finally: good luck with your installation. I hope it goes well.

P.S. In the past I would have persevered, because like a lot of technical people, I think: what will people think of me if I can’t get this to work?? Maybe they think I am no good??? 🙂 It seems silly, but plenty of technical people are motivated that way. I am still somewhat motivated that way. But pouring more time in this is like pouring more money into an old car you know you should just give up on vs continuing to try and fix.

P.S.S. Here’s a bunch of Mastodon links that you may find helpful:

Spotify helps makes the holidays more festive. Take advantage of it.

When I was younger, I loved listening to Christmas music all through the holiday season. This was hard in the days of radio only music, since they often stopping playing Christmas tunes once Christmas day was done. To keep it going, I could play my own records/tapes/CDs, but they get old after a time. (Except for the music for Charlie Brown’s Christmas: that never gets old.)

All that is to say that Spotify solves the problems I used to have. They have LOTS of Christmas music, and you can listen to it all you want. You can even listen to it in July. (That’s too long for me, but you do you.) Not only do they have lots of songs, but they have plenty of playlists. You can even make your own playlist. That way you can list to the type of Christmas you want, when you want it.

Happy holidays to you. Keep it festive with Christmas music, be it from the radio, your own collection, or Spotify. Joyeux Noel.

Checklists keep your head above water when you are overwhelmed. Get one.

During busy times, or during chaotic times, or even times when you just don’t know what to do next, you need a good checklist. Get yourself a list of things you need to do every day and check it off. Even if you don’t do everything on it every day. Even if some of the items on it refer to other checklists. Regardless, get a good checklist, and do it at least once a day.

I have always been a big fan of checklists. They save me in lots of ways. I have one I go through every morning and it helps me stay focused and get what I need to get done. I recommend you get one too.

For more on checklists, see book The Checklist Manifesto. Highly recommended!

On gamification of my time to get tough things done

I had been using a skillful form of procrastination: I was been doing things I don’t mind doing rather than doing things that are hard or that are important. For awhile this was ok: I still needed to complete the things I don’t mind doing. Eventually, though, I was getting really far behind on the hard and important things. I needed a solution.

My solution so far is to gamify my activities. Its based on achieving so many points per week. I assign a point for every minute of the day. Most minutes get 0 points for now. Some minutes get assigned positive points in the following way:

  1. 5 points for everything important I hate doing
  2. 3 points for important things I don’t hate doing
  3. 2 points for everyday chores I don’t like doing
  4. 1 point for everyday chores I like or don’t mind doing
  5. 1/2 point for staying organized and doing chores or important things I love doing

What I was doing before was spending no time on 1 and 2, some time on 3, and most of my time on 4 and 5. Not to mention fun things, sleeping, eating which I give zero points for. Now if I spent 30 minutes on cooking I get 30 points; 30 minutes shovelling snow is 60 points; 30 minutes helping my kids is 90 points and 30 minutes dealing with financial stuff is 150 points.

Once I had that system, it was pretty easy to measure my points in a day. I have a little spreadsheet to do it but you can use a paper pad or pretty much anything to do so.

The hard part of this is determining what is a win under this system. My first goal was a win would be 1000 points a week. It’s pretty hard to get that doing activities with 1-2 point activities; you need to really focus on 3-5 point activities.

In my first week I got to 1000 points by Thursday. So I decided on a different approach. 1000 points would get my Bronze level. 1500 would be Silver Level. 2000 would be Gold. Platinum would be 2500. The idea is that Bronze should be hard but achievable, Silver should be a stretch, and Gold should be an occasional win. Platinum should be rare.

It’s been successful once I calibrated it that way. The weeks I get the most important things done, they correspond to medals. The weeks I slack off lead me to get a DNF (Did Not Finish). I pledge to do better the next week. (Unless I am vacationing or sick: then a DNF is perfectly fine.)

The next hard thing: what is the benefit of winning? At first I tied physical rewards to point amounts. That might work for some people. It even worked for me for awhile too. Eventually I just found it satisfying to see there were weeks when I was getting important things done. That in itself was a reward, the win.

Overall gamification of my life has resulted in me getting the most important things done. I recommend it for people who like games and/or are stuck.

P.S. you are thinking this is like the idea of putting the big rocks in first, you are right!

For more on gamification and apps that can help you, see this: 9 of the Best Apps to ‘Gamify’ Your Life.

(Image via

A feel good todo list: how it helps you with difficult tasks

There is a  problem I have with some items on my todo list, and you might have this too. The problem? I hate the process of doing that task, but I feel good when I finish it. Those are the tasks I’ll avoid for a long long long time, then do them — possibly cursing the whole time — and then when I’m done, I’ll think: well that feels good to have that done!

For those tasks, I’ve built something called the Feels Good todo list. For my Feels Good Todolist (FGT List), I have two columns. In the first column I write the task, and in the next column I write how I feel after it is done.

When I have to do the task I hate, I try and focus on how I feel when it is done. It requires some concentration, because my mind wants to think about how I hate it. Just as importantly, when it is done, I take the time to enjoy that feeling. I don’t rush off to do the next thing. I am trying to teach my brain to remember how good it feels so that it is somewhat easier the next time. Try it!

It’s hard to do certain tasks. If you get satisfaction from the process, that’s great. If not, focus on how good you feel when it is done. It will keep you going.

How to deal with recurring nightmares (plus four other good pieces on better sleeping)

Do you suffer from recurring nightmares? If you do, I highly recommend you read this. It has worked for me and it may work for you too. Sleep can be hard enough to get: being fearful of repeating a nightmare makes it harder.

Here are some other sleep tips from the New York Times  that I thought were useful.

The Times also has advice on how to deal with waking up in the middle of the night and being unable to get back to sleep, here.

Do you exercise hard? If so, listen to  Atlantic CEO Nicholas Thompson who argues that among the things you need to be successful athlete is good sleep.

Sleepwell is an initiative to help people sleep better without medication. You can check it out,  here.


How to pick a good bottle of wine from your local LCBO with Decanter and one simple trick

I have a rule of thumb when it comes to choosing a bottle of wine for the first time: any wine highly rated by Decanter is good. If you are unsure what to get, look for bottles with a round Decanter sticker on them and you can be confident in your purchase. And  good news: most LCBO stores will have quite a few such bottles.

Alas, not all such wines rated by Decanter bear their sticker. And yes it can be a lot of work trying to find them at all.  Wouldn’t it be great if you could easily find them in the store near you?

Well there is a way you can do that: with your browser. To do this, first go to the LCBO website ( and pick your local store (or a store you plan to go to).

Once you do that, enter the following URL in your browser (from https all the way to [true]):[true]

What you will get back are wines in your local LCBO store rated highly by Decanter magazine. With bigger stores like the one at Yonge and Summerhill in Toronto I got over 30 results back, with many around the $20 price point.

If you are cost conscious, enter this version in your browser:[true]

It will return the same list but sorted with the lower cost ones listed first.

There are lots of ratings and plenty of ways to find a good wine at the LCBO. I find this way works great for me. Perhaps you find the same thing for you.

P.S. You can play around with other rating groups. For example, Wine Enthusiast is also associated with wine in the LCBO and many of them are at an attractive lower price point. To see what I mean, enter this:

If you are looking to join a Discord Server or run yours better, read this

David Seah provides an excellent model for anyone looking to run their discord server effectively. I recommend you check out what he has to say, here: DSri’s Virtual Coworking Cafe – DSri Seah. As he describes it:

The DS|CAFE Discord is a virtual office that has became a virtual coworking space in 2016. It’s designed to provide “the right level of distraction” you need to have a productive day with the option of sharing our interests with each other.

He goes on to briefly describe what it’s for, what the people are like, what the main chat areas are, and — very important — what the chat guidelines are. I would hope all discord servers are as thoughtful.

You might be thinking: that’s all well and good, but I don’t want to start a Discord server, I just want to join one.  Well, you are in luck, because David’s server allows you to sign up. Instructions are on the site. If you do on my recommendation, I also strongly state you should respect their guidelines and their community.

P.S. David Seah is one of those people who makes the Internet a better place by sharing what he has. We need more people like that.



Two useful tools for people who want to be productive but find their work day gets away from them

Do you find the work day slide by and you think: what did I even get done today? Or do you find yourself tracking what you are doing but finding that you lost focus on what you are supposed to be doing?

If so, David Seah has tool useful tools on his web site you can use:

  1. The Emergent Task Timer
  2. The Emergent Task Planner

The first tool is a good way to track what you even got done today. David has some good examples of how he uses it. Generally I like to put what I think my focus will be at the top, put administrivia work and breaks at the bottom, and put meetings etc in the middle. You only have room for 12 tasks, so if you find you have a lot of meetings, consider grouping them all into one task: Meetings. Or you may have two tasks: Client Meetings and Internal Meetings.  However you do it, don’t sweat it too much. The first few days you might find it hard to get everything done, but it gets easier over time.

The second tool is a good way to plan your day and try to keep it focused. It takes a bit more work, but it is good when you want to ensure you spent your time well. It can be handy if you are doing daily standups, because you can list the main thing you are working on at the top. Ideally you are spending most of your day working on that…if you are doing other things below it, chances are they are a blocker of some sort.

These are just two useful tools on David Seah’s web site. I recommend you take a few minutes to check out the rest of his site: you might find other things he has worthwhile. I know I have. I’ve been using his tools off and on since 2007, and wrote about how good they are.

Good luck with the tools. Here’s to being more productive this week.

P.S. If you need a timer, I recommend this site.

(Image: link to image on David Seah’s web site)

Fall cleaning tips

Is Fall cleaning a thing? I know Spring cleaning is. I think Fall cleaning should be something we do as well. Especially if you celebrate big festivities in November or December. Fall cleaning can be just the thing to get your place in shape before those events occur.

On that note, here’s some good cleaning tips that can help you with your cleaning, whatever season it is:

Dishwashers are like towels: they are involved with cleaning, but need to be cleaned, too. Here’s some hacks to help you do that.

Relatedly, here’s some good cleaning hacks you can do with Dishwasher Tablets. Not just for your dishes.

Yellow pillows are…not great. Rather than throw them away, why not scan this and see if you can clean your yellow pillows?

A reminder in this age of many germs, that clean and disinfecting are not always equivalent. Read and see.

For big cooks like me: How to Clean the Worst Cooking Messes in Your Kitchen

Moving to the bathroom, this advice came in handy for me: How to Clean a Bathroom Floor. Relatedly Ways to Use Distilled White Vinegar.

Happy cleaning!

Things that are making me happy (that could make you happy too): tiny plants

Tiny plants have been making me happy. I was typically bad with plants, but since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been keeping some in my home and mainly they’ve been doing well. So I recommend if you want to be happier, getting some tiny plants might be a good way to do that.

How do they make me happy? First, I like to see them around the place. They are like small art pieces scattered on shelves, desks and tables. It’s also just pleasant having greenery nearby. Second, they give me a reason to take care of something. Just a little of taking care of something makes me happy. Third, the success of them makes me proud and also happy: I no longer feel I have a black (not green) thumb. Fourth, it gives me a reason to go shopping — which I enjoy — and get something small and not spend too much money but still something nice (which is satisfying).

I am fortunate in that I have plenty of shops nearby that sell small plants. Another option is to get cuttings from friends who have plants. Here’s a guide to doing that..

As for pots, I got a half dozen or so from Ikea. They have some for as low as $1.99.

Now that I have you convinced :), here’s a guide to the 25 best plants for the home. I have several of them.

(Image on top is from that article on the 25 best plants. Image below is from IKEA.)

Great advice for anyone from 6 to 66, from Nick Cave (be foolish and be basic)

So someone named Chris wrote to Nick Cave and asked, “I’m 62 years old and decided to learn how to play guitar. Rock guitar. Is such an endeavour a fool’s errand for someone of my age?” To which he replied “Yes… AND…”. I think anyone considering starting something new should read it. (It can be found here: Nick Cave – The Red Hand Files – Issue #210 – I’m 62 years old and decided.) It reminds you that you can suck and you may be too old (or too short, tall, thin, fat, shy, awkward, etc.) but that good things can come out of it if you keep at it.

Reading it, I was reminded of the classic three chord recommendation: learn three chords and form a band! Why not? If this got you thinking hey maybe I should learn to play the guitar, then you might find this useful: Guitar card cheat sheet. Start with E. 🙂

BTW, I think the advice “learn the basics” and then get out there and make something is good for any creative endeavour, be it drawing or making a web page. Don’t try to learn a lot at first. Learn enough to get started and go from there.

P.S. I think “Yes….AND…” is a great way to answer things. It acknowledges the concerns someone might have while opening them up to possibilities they might not have considered or appreciated.

(More on three chords and form a band, here (and where I got the image from))


What makes you happy about your job. Think Maslow, not Brooks

Too often when I see pieces on work and what makes a good job, they downplay certain aspects, like pay or job title. That comes up in this piece by Arthur Brooks, How to Pick a Job That Will Actually Make You Happy, where he writes:

… this belief is based on a misunderstanding of what brings job satisfaction. To be happy at work, you don’t have to hold a fascinating job that represents the pinnacle of your educational achievement or the most prestigious use of your “potential,” and you don’t have to make a lot of money. What matters is not so much the “what” of a job, but more the “who” and the “why”: Job satisfaction comes from people, values, and a sense of accomplishment.

I don’t think he is wrong with this, I just think he is missing out on the bigger picture. The way to see the bigger picture is to focus on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (shown above).

According to Maslow, we have several needs: basic needs, psychological needs and finally self-fulfillment needs. The lower needs are simple and obvious: the higher ones are complicated.

Our jobs provide for some or all of these needs. For example, our work environment should provide us with our basic needs, while our pay satisfies both basic and psychological needs. Things like job titles, promotions, awards, perqs, and other acknowledgements also help with psychological needs. As for the work itself, and the things Brooks is discussing, they satisfy our self-fulfillment needs. If you are fortunate, you have a job that provides for all those needs to a high degree.

That said, we all measure our needs differently. For people who work dangerous outdoor jobs, their basic needs may not be met nearly as well as someone who works in a warm office. For those outdoor workers, the satisfaction from the work itself (e.g. rescue work, emergency repair work) may more than make up for the discomfort and difficulty they face. Likewise, for a person working in an office, doing interesting work that fulfills their potential may be much more important than promotions and pay raises and other things their co-worker with different psychological needs has.

In Brooks’s piece, he emphasizes self-fulfillment needs and minimizes basic and psychological needs. That’s a common mistake, and the reason people might become dissatisfied with their job, even though on the surface what they have appears to be a great job. We all know about people quitting because of bad management: in that case you can see people’s needs at all levels not being met. But people can also struggle because they have a conflict that some of their needs are being met while others are not. For example, people can have a good job with lots of benefits, but it is very unfulfilling, or they can have a good job that is very fulfilling but it doesn’t meet their basic needs.

The best job can fulfill all of your needs to a satisfactory level. That’s the job that will make you happy, not just a job that satisfies your top needs. When you look to work at a new place, make sure you can get all your needs met to the level you need. You’ll be much happier.

What Mark Cuban can teach you about motivation is simple and powerful

Do you find it hard to motivate yourself? If you do, you should look to Mark Cuban for a valuable lesson. Mark Cuban recently started Cost Plus Drugs to allow him to bring low cost medicine to people who need it. It’s a great initiative. But it took someone awful like Martin Shkreli to get the ball rolling. As Cuban says, when he saw Shkreli’s company jacking the price up on some drugs to obscene amounts, he concluding that the opposite could happen as well. Then he went and did something about it.

So kudos to Martin S for inspiring Mark C to start this new company: your greed has not been for naught.

Here’s the lesson in a nutshell: find someone doing something wrong that you strongly disagree with and then decide to behave in the opposite way to counteract that.  You will be plenty motivated, I am sure. And you will be doing the world some good too.

For more on this, read how Mark Cuban says Martin Shkreli inspired him to start Cost Plus Drugs in Vox.

Save the Jack o’ Lanterns from the rats with nice tails

Walking around my neighborhood this weekend I noticed two things:

  1. People have done a great job decorating for Halloween
  2. Squirrels do not give a fig for Halloween and seem to like wrecking people’s good work. Especially their pumpkins/jack o’lanterns.

If this is happening to you, I recommend you at least read this: How to Keep Squirrels From Destroying Your Pumpkins.

You’re welcome. Thank you for decorating: the kids from 6-96 love it.

Happy Thanksgiving, Canada! Here’s a really good guide to roasting a turkey, planning the meal, and keeping it simple


Happy Thanksgiving, Canada! Last year I shared with you what I was making for the celebration here. Our meal was delicious, and all made from scratch, thanks to the fact I had help! (Thanks, Lisa!) So if you have help, I recommend what I did last year.

However if you don’t have help and you are doing it all by yourself, let me suggest you get some stuff off the shelf. I always make the turkey, some form of veg, and mashed potatoes from scratch. Always. But if it’s just me cooking, I will get Stove Top stuffing, packaged gravy, baked rolls, and canned cranberries. Hey, even doing all that is a lot of work with 4 burners going, not to mention the oven and the microwave. My foodie friends may disown me, but I learned this lesson from Anthony Bourdain years ago: simplify simplify simplify your prep even if the food isn’t the level you want. Trust me. My main goal is to get a pretty good dinner on the table reasonably, not show off I can make everything from scratch by myself. However, YMMV.

Speaking of trusting me, I would also recommend going with the simplest form of turkey roasting possible. Here’s my approach. I tend to get a 12-16 pound turkey and I roast it unstuffed at 325F at 15 minutes / pound. I write out the time I put it in, how long it should roast based on that formula, and when I believe I should take it out. I put it in the oven uncovered, and when it gets to the golden brown you see below, I cover it simply with aluminum foil but keep on cooking it until it is done. I check on it more towards the end, basting it every time I do. 

How do you know it is done? If you use a meat thermometer, many current guides will say the turkey is done when the meat is 165F. Back in the 1980s the meat was said to be done at 185F. 165F will leave you with a moister turkey, and 185F will mean everything is well done. If you are nervous, go with 185F. In the worst case, at 185F some of the breast meat may be a bit dry: that’s fixed with some gravy. 🙂

Oh, and while meat thermometers are great, a simple plastic pop up pin put in the breast works good too. If you don’t have a meat thermometer or a pop up pin, cook to the time calculation you did above….you’ll be fine. 

If you want more guidance on turkey roasting, go here. I generally get unfrozen turkeys: it makes life simpler. If you have a frozen one, you want to read this.

Enjoy your dinner, whatever form it comes in. Cheers!