MonthJanuary 2014

On Self-Hosting

I predict 2014 is the year when we see more popular services go away. Either because they’re unsustainable businesses or they’re bought up and immediately integrated into larger companies. Either way, they go away and all we’ve left with is a message saying how much we, the customers, mean to them.

Because of this I’ve started to bring some services in-house and run them on my server. The following tools are what I’ve chosen to use.

Author’s Note: I am not saying they are the best thing out there. Nor am I saying they are perfect for you. They’re just what I use. I use them. I like them. You may not.

With the pile of services that will host your text and images, I still prefer to host my blog. Congratulations! You’re here.

Blogs

Tech in the Trenches is hosted on a WordPress installation I run off a Dreamhost shared server. I’m not fancy.

With the recent demise of Google Reader and Feedly’s questionable decisions, I’ve decided to host my own RSS reader. Sure, there are plenty of good ones out there. But it’s not something I care enough about to pay for.

If I didn’t have RSS, life would go on. I would go back to keeping folders of links just as I did before RSS. I would also use the various social media networks to let the good stuff bubble up from the muck of the Internet.

RSS

To that end, I found TinyTinyRSS and decided to install it.

It’s small, flexible and has a plugin community around it. But the reason I found it is Dreamhost blogged about installing it. What’s easier than that?

So a few minutes after reading the post, I had TT-RSS setup.

Once it’s running I would recommend finding a different theme as I don’t care for the default. I’m using the Feedly theme out of habit. There’s also a Google Reader-style theme if you want to relive the glory.

While there is a native Android client it didn’t help me out on iOS.

To get it working on my iPhone, I am using the Fever plugin. This allows TT-RSS to authenticate as if it were Shaun Inman’s Fever. It works with Reeder, which I use. It also supports Mr. Reader and ReadKit according to the developer.

To make this work you have to enable API access in your tt-rss account preferences (Preferences -> Enable external API) before using the client. I missed this step and couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t work.

Analytics

I don’t keep a close eye on my analytics. But I am curious every now and again when I get more than a few hits on a post where the traffic comes from.

Piwik works well for me. It gives me what Google Analytics provides without the threat of it going away.

Photos

This is almost constantly in flux. For years I used Gallery. It was stable and robust. But then it grew bloated. I prefer smaller tools and went looking for an alternative.

I decided on Piwigo. It feels lighter to me. I don’t a complex set of tools. I want a place to make albums and show them off. That’s it. It’s simple and it works for me. If you’re a Dreamhost user, both of these are available as one-click installs.

I’ve also been flirting with TroveBox (formerly OpenPhoto). They have a hosted option that will use your own storage but also charges a monthly fee.

They provide downloads and documentation to get the software setup on a variety of server setups.

GIFs

Yes, I keep some animated gifs at my disposal. To do this, I use Eat My GIF. It’s a ridiculously simple drop-in installation and now I have a place to throw GIFs to deploy as needed. Yes, I realize this is very silly. But I like it and it’s developed by a friend.

So don’t hate.
Hates Gonna Hate

What I’m not hosting

Email. I have no desire to run my own mail server. I use Gmail and am perfectly happy with it for now.

Social Media. I see the value of a distributed social media network. However, I am happy with Twitter/App.net/Facebook. I don’t need anything else.

I tried out Tent in the form of Tent.is, which now appears to be Cupcake.io, for a short time but I’m not enough of an ubernerd to hack it.

OwnCloud I had running for a while. But I found I didn’t really use it. Dropbox is still fine for me. It’s on my radar and I may use it again for something. But I just don’t have a need for it.

It’s easy to get carried away and start hosting things I don’t need to host. It makes more work for me to support and keep it updated and working. Sometimes the trade-offs are easier letting someone else do the heavy lifting.

Just because I can do it, doesn’t mean I should.

Are you all self-hosting anything interesting? Tell me about it over on Twitter or ADN.

Beautiful Dumb and Fast

Maybe it’s getting older or my life’s work in repairing and fixing broken things but it drove me to this simplicity. I want something simple. I want it to work and work well.

Reading The Daily Zen #2 “Beautiful, Dumb, & Fast”, a line from the post stuck with me. It puts my own feelings about the new race of smart televisions.

what I personally want out of my TV is very simple and can be boiled down to a phrase – beautiful, dumb, and fast.

iPod TV
iPod video from Alexandre van de sande

When I see a 3D TV I see a gimmick that gives me a headache. It fixes a problem I don’t have. And 3D implementations I’ve seen have given me terrible headaches after a few minutes.

When I see a smart TV I see a device that will never see software updates or fixes. I better love every feature and issue because it’s never going to change.

That’s the problem with buying into something. I’ve not only bought that TV. But I’ve bought into its ecosystem of applications. I’ve bought into its design. I’ve bought into everything that TV wants to be and nothing it doesn’t.

I’d rather buy into something more flexible. My entire home media setup is based around Plex, a Roku box for the bedroom and an Xbox 360 in the living room.

Plex powers both the Roku and Xbox. I can stream video to either device. Plex sits on an iMac, the last desktop left in the house. It’s always on so it manages the Plex media library hosted on a small NAS hooked to it. It also manages my wireless iTunes syncing for my iDevices.

The Roku and Xbox have also been actively developed for and even before Plex was officially supports on Roku, there was a way to add it as a custom channel. While the Xbox is a closed box, it’s a wildly popular and fairly well supported one.

There are moving pieces to this setup for sure. But it also allows for cheap replacements, upgrades and flexibility. Can take my Roku box with my on vacation and still access Netflix, Amazon Instant Video and HBO Go. I can’t do that with a smart TV.

And if my Roku box dies, it’s a $50 fix. If my smart TV dies… I’m out a television and all of its smarts.

Give me something dumb any day.

Leave By Example

Go home when work is over.

This is a deceptively simple idea. When your work day is complete, leave work. It’s something I’ve struggled with as I tried to clear my ticket queue. I love to tell myself if I just spend a few more minutes on this problem I’ll have a solution.

I won’t. I never do. I need to go home and pick it up tomorrow. You know when I do find the solution for my problem? Tomorrow, after I’ve slept and rested. After I’ve stopped thinking about it.

When work is over, I go home. I don’t stay late. I don’t give my free time to work. I am a contractor which means I stop getting paid the moment I work 8 hours. I don’t get paid overtime. When I work late, I work for free. Don’t work for free.

Leave By Example
Via Gratisphotography.com

My time is valuable and so it yours. I leave by example. Working as a team lead, I would leave at the end of the day and urge my team to do the same. Your team takes cues from you. Be a good example and others will follow.

Time is finite and comes from somewhere.

Go Eat Lunch

I have a hard time taking this advice, but it’s important. Eat lunch away from your desk. Get up and go to the cafeteria, find a restaurant you like. Find a place to eat where you won’t be disturbed.

When I am at my desk, my co-workers take that as a signal I am working. So I can be disturbed. Even if I’m clearly eating lunch, it doesn’t stop the interruptions or requests for work as I eat.

I do it to myself. I will be trying to find a solution to a problem as I eat. Or I’ll be sending emails. I need to stop working. I need to switch gears.

I usually eat in about 15 minutes. With my remaining 15 minutes I read a book or listen to music. If I’m having a rough day I’ll go for a walk or close my eyes and set a timer for a midday nap.

Non-Smoker Smoke Break

Smokers get to go outside for a few minutes a couple of times per day. I decided I would do the same thing. Instead of smoking, I go for walks. I read a book on my phone or go through my Instapaper queue.

I use the chance to get some fresh air and clear my head. It works wonder to step away from a problem and come back to it with a clear head and a different perspective.

Most importantly, it saves me from never leaving my desk for 8 straight hours. I’ve had days where I stand up to collect myself and go home and wonder why my legs are so stiff and sore. It’s from sitting all day without moving.

Leave on time. Go to lunch. Leave your desk throughout the day. You’ll be happier and healthier at the end of the day.

Secrets

Derek Sivers started writing again and in a recent post called Why my code and ideas are public he recalls a conversation with a friend. during a dinner conversation, she said:

“I’m not worried about someone finding out my secrets, because secrets are just facts, right? So if someone is going through my private things, for example, and gets upset about what they find, then that’s their problem, not mine!”

He liked the attitude and it caused him to question his own secrets just as I did mine many years ago.

I had my secrets. They too were locked away in a notebook. I used to keep one in my pocket or backpack when I went to school. Growing up, I wrote in it everyday. I wrote poetry, terrible teenage angst poetry.

I wrote about the hurt I was feeling over my parent’s divorce. I wrote about how I felt isolated in the small town where I grew up. I felt like a freak to those around me. Being 6’5′ and preferring poetry to football helped that alienation.

It was all so real and raw and painful. I let myself out upon those pages. In varying colors of ink my emotions flowed out in words.

And I never shared them. With anyone. For any reason. Ever.

sunset hair
By Alexander Shustov via Unsplash

I was sure, if found, it would lead to questions I didn’t want to answer. It would lead to trouble. Because when I let my uncensored words out, they were painful. They were emotions I didn’t know what to do with so I wrote them down.

I kept my writing secret. It was for me. It didn’t need to be shared with anyone. It made me feel better. That’s all it needed to do. That’s all I required of it. Helping me to get through the dark nights and sometimes darker dawns.

Then I got involved with my school’s literary magazine.

I read writings from my peers. I read their pain. I read their confusion. I read their love. I read their passion. And I learned I wasn’t alone.

I wasn’t the only person who had fears and confusion and hurt. It was universal. I was not alone.

Learning this was the greatest lesson of my life. I am not alone! And it was liberating. It made me reconsider keeping everything I had secret.

I realized it didn’t matter how people reacted to what I wrote. It was what I felt. It was my reality, my life, my pain, my joy. It was me. My writing was myself on paper.

So I shared.

I submitted some of my writing to the magazine. Some of it was good enough to get published. Much of it was garbage. But some was good enough to earn a spot in the magazine.

This build my courage. When people told me they liked a line or a phrase, or even the entire piece it was a huge confidence boost.

It was very liberating to not only know I wasn’t alone, but to know I had found people who understood me.

My secrets, when confronted with the harsh light of day weren’t so important.