Books read in April

Difficult Conversations (1st) – A quick read full of the kind of good advice that will be difficult to put into practice.  Like Getting Things Done, it feels like the way to get the most out of this book is to try out their techniques and then read it again.  Experience putting their recommendations into action will help bring out some of the nuance that gets glossed over in a first reading.  Come to think of it this is probably true of most self help books.

Equal Rites (17th) – Another Discworld novel. I know I’m coming to these late but I’m really enjoying them. I read one of this book’s sequels first (Lords and Ladies) so it was kind of interesting to go backwards in the development of the characters and setting. Like all of the Discworld books I’ve read so far it was a ton of fun and a quick read.

Design for the Real World (23rd) – I picked this up based on a Mike Monteiro talk from Webstock ’13 called “How Designers Destroyed the World“.  Who could ignore a talk with a title like that?  I’m really glad I did.  Papanek skewers (in, at times excruciating, detail) the entire design profession.  The thesis is pretty straightforward.  Designers have an outsized effect on the world we live in and to use it for anything but the greater good is an abuse of the skills required to be a designer.  He provides an interesting framework for evaluating whether a design is “good” enough and there are some great examples of good design as well as some hilarious and/or terrifying examples of bad design.  All in all though, there are probably just too many examples and there are some sections that feel pretty dated (the second edition was written in the 80’s).  (There are also some mind blowingly prescient parts too.)  If you’re involved at all in the design of anything (and that includes you, software people), I highly recommend this book, but don’t be afraid to skim sections that feel like a parade of design examples or product ideas. Probably the best book I’ve read this year.

Note: As of this post I’ll be using Amazon affiliate links.  If that bugs you, it’s pretty easy to circumvent.  I promise it’s not going to effect the content here.

Books read in March

I’m trying out something new. I’m going to try recording the books I’ve read each month. I’m hoping it will help read more.

These are the books I read in March (and the date I finished them):

How Google Works (17th) – Smug and self serving. I give them extra points for having fun with the footnotes, though. A solid meh.

Cold as Ice (21st) – Hard science fiction.  Feels a bit noir in places, especially the ending. Interesting to see what older sci fi thought the future of media would look like.

Illuminati Illuminated

This year for New Year’s Eve we went to an “Illuminati” themed party.  I wanted to keep things simple and decide I would just wear my black suit and where some sort of “spooky” pocket square.  While searching for occult pocket squares I came across the Draper, an Instructable for building a glowing pocket square.  Not having the time to order parts (this was December 30th, after all) I decided to see what I could whip up on my own.  Between a battery pack powered strip of LEDs I had lying around, a quick trip to Jo-Ann’s fabrics and some clutch design skill from Deana I had everything I needed.  First, Deana designed me a couple of occult patterns to go under the cloth.

I printed them out on card stock and cut them out to fit my suit pocket (4″ x 6″).  I cut a piece of foam roughly a quarter inch thick and taped that to back of the card stock to help diffuse the LEDs.  Next I taped the LEDs along the back of the foam.  The last step was to cut out a square of white cloth and fold it around the top of the card stock cutout.  I had originally planned to fold the cloth nicely around the card stock and leave it at that, but I was having trouble fitting everything inside the pocket so I ended up just taping the cloth down.

The back of my light up pocket square

It’s not very pretty from this angle, but it got the job done.

Given how little time I had to throw this together I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

A close up of the pocket square

A close up, in the pocket

Ginger Lemon Brandy

On new years day my brothers and I made ginger champagne, as we have in years past. In 2013 I had the bright idea (inspired by this recipe) to use the “waste” from the brewing, i.e. the ginger peel and lemon zest, in an infusion. That turned out to be a a tasty success and we decided to do another infusion this year. I happened to have a large amount of brandy lying around so we decided to experiment with that. This recipe is still basically a riff on that original boozed and infused recipe, but ratcheted way up since we have a lot more leftovers to go around now that we’re making 5 gallon batches of champagne.

Ingredients

  • 0.6 lbs ginger peel (or just ginger if you’re starting from scratch)
  • zest from 5 lemons
  • 1.5 liters brandy
  • leftover boiled ginger from making champagne (optional)
  • simple syrup or agave to taste (optional)

After two weeks I stained and tested the infusion.  Depending on how much ginger you put in you may want to let it sit longer. It was good and gingery but on the sweet side. If you’re starting from scratch you won’t have this problem, you’ll probably want to add simple syrup or agave to taste.

Ginger Brandy Manhattan
2 oz ginger brandy
1 oz dry vermouth
Dash of bitters
Lemon twist

The vermouth and bitters balance out the sweetness of the brandy quite nicely making for a smooth and spicy variation on the classic Manhattan.

The First Cryptopals Learn-A-Long of 2015

Are you interested in cryptography or Internet security? Matt Baker and I are leading another learn-a-long workshop where we all work through Matasano’s cryptopals challenges together.  If you watched the Imitation Game and were wondering what cryptography looks like now, this might be just the thing for you. The next meeting is Wednesday January 21st from 7PM to 9PM at Dev Bootcamp.  None of us are experts — we’ll all be learning this stuff together.  Some people will be just starting out, others are part of the way through the course. Bring your laptop, charger and learning spirit!

The-Imitation-Game

It’s like this, basically, except none of us dress this well.

Ginger champagne 2015

Another year has passed and with the previous night’s exuberance still ringing in our heads, the brothers Shanan got together to brew our annual ginger champagne. The 2014 batch turned out pretty well but we’re still seeing some inconsistencies in the bottles. Some were great but most were a little too sweet and not as carbonated as we’d expected – – both signs of incomplete fermentation in the bottle. It was perfect as a mixer for cocktails, though, and I’m keeping a couple bottles in the hopes that another month or two will be what they need.

Continue reading ‘Ginger champagne 2015′

2014 in review

2014 wasn’t the banner year I was quite hoping for but it wasn’t 2013 so at least it had that going for it. There were some very moderate successes that I’m really pleased with as well as some goals I never made it to.

Tools:
If I had to give 2013 a name I’d call it the year of systems improvement except that’s a boring name and nothing should ever be named that. I’m happy with the Evernote, Trello, Beeminder combo I’ve been using (especially considering the new tool I added to the mix, see below). Having that system in place has really helped me continue to be productive and healthy while Deana has been in school. Achievable goals combined with regular prioritization may be the single sentence summary of GTD, but when my energy is low it’s really important to be able to say “I need to do these things today and then it’s okay to quit.”

I added a new tool this year that has really streamlined my use of Trello and Beeminder.  Zapier is a service in the same vein as IFTTT. You choose one service as a trigger and another to be triggered, allowing you to automate new things. For me that means when I move an item to “Done” in Trello I no longer need to enter it into Beeminder by hand. Cutting out that second step has made me a much better user of Trello. Since Beeminder is the record keeper that matters, moving items to done in Trello was often an afterthought. Now I can focus more on the things I need to do and trust that the record keeping is happening automatically.  I really like the idea of IFTT and Zapier, but it wasn’t until Zapier got their Beeminder integration that I found a real use for them.

That wasn’t the only automation I added this year.  I wrote some code to make recurring tasks on Trello easier.  It’s definitely helpful but due to some issues with my server I haven’t actually used it as much as I hoped to.

Blog:
Articles:  8 (up 14% from last year’s 7)
Total word count: 1641, 6.5 pages* (down 29% from last year’s 2298, 9.1 pages*)
Average words per article:  205.1 words / 0.8 pages* (down 38% from last year’s 328.3, 1.3 pages*)
Views:  601** (up 32% from last year’s 454 )
*250 words is roughly one page, hand written
**As of 12/30/14

I’m writing more than I did last year though you wouldn’t know it from looking at these stats.  A lot of that writing is taking place elsewhere.  Here thought it’s been more posts but shorter ones.  Both of those are true in part because I’ve been using very short posts to announce the Crypto Learn-A-Longs I’ve been doing with Matt (more on that below).  Since most of what I do here is document projects there’s a lot more that goes into a blog post than just writing.  One of my goals for next year is to do more writing that stands on its own.  And who knows, maybe I’ll break that article per month barrier too.

Views are up again.  I attribute that to two things. First, the learn-a-longs.  October was far and a way my best month.  It’s also the month I published both learn-a-long articles.  Since those are event announcements I felt less self conscious about sharing them around deliberately and I also had Matt distributing the link.  Second, I took on a variety of projects this year that I think brought in some new visitors.  Both ExtinctionCSS and NaNoGenMo brought new followers and they’re both about subjects I haven’t really written about before.

Projects:
I had a pretty good year on GitHub.

New repos: 4 (and one fork)
Commits: 57
Repos contributed to: 3
Pull Requests accepted: 1

Three of the new repos are responsible for the majority of those commits (ExtinctionCSS, Scheduling Trello, NaNoGenMo).  I’m really happy with my performance in NaNoGenMo. I put a lot of thought into the planning and structure phase and it payed off. I started small and doable, knowing my time would be limited, and built from there.  This was my first foray into generative art and I had an absolute blast.  I’ve got a lot of ideas that came from this so hopefully you’ll be seeing more of this next year.

One project you haven’t seen me writing about has come to a close in December.  I’m moving on from Coyote.  I had a good two years there — I learned a lot, especially about product development and leading a team.  Shout out to my team, Growth Junkies.  Thanks for everything!  I’ll be joining Nielsen Marketing Analytics as a Senior Developer where I’ll be doing a lot more front end development as well as learning some sweet machine learning algos.  To growth in 2015!


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