On the Occasion of Turning 46

Will his beard fill in? Check back in a year… lol!

As far a memorable numbers go, 46 is pretty low on the list. I cant’ really explain why it seems so ordinary, but it truly feels like one of the blandest numbers in the gamut of years old to be.

This past year has been anything but bland, however. I managed to not catch Covid. I started a web comic. I lost 65lbs (and gained back about 50). I started a new job. Heck, it’s been one of the more eventful years in recent memory, and that’s not just because of the pandemic. In fact, it’s easy to get lost in the every day, and lose track of the amazing things that happen alongside “life”. (Perhaps as a part of life, but that’s picking nits)

There are plenty of not-so-good things that happened this past year as well. A dear friend died. Our health insurance is going through some unwelcome changes. Several friends have been diagnosed with cancer. That’s the thing about life, it sorta comes at you like a fire hose. The unfortunate part is that it’s often easier to focus on being all wet, and lose track of how refreshing a good hosing down can be. So as I begin this 47th lap around the sun, I strive to focus on the positive things along the way. That doesn’t mean ignore the negatives, but rather not lose track of the good things that are often overshadowed by doom. I think depression and anxiety often make the bad times seem worse than they might actually be, and the good times to seem more fleeting. Brains suck that way. But nevertheless, I have a few hopes and dreams for the coming year, and I’ll jot a few down here:

Continue My Webcomic

I can’t explain how much I enjoy poorly drawing a comic 6 days a week. Anyone who knows me realizes the adventures of Blue and Spot are really just my daily journal, using silly pictures to express the real things happening in my life. Much like therapists use dolls to make it easier to talk about personal issues, my squares in a round world make it easier for me to express myself. Even the scary bits. I hope I continue with the comic, because it’s not only enjoyable, but also I think very healthy for me.

Make More Videos

I’m no longer a trainer at CBT Nuggets. My videos are still in the catalog, and I still get messages from folks online about how much they enjoy my training. And I’m not gonna lie, those notes of thanks are so cherished. But I’m not actively making videos for a living anymore, and I miss it. I have a lucrative job that I love (Linux sysadmin, managing a bunch of servers in multiple datacenters), but I miss the creation process. So, my hope is that I start making some videos and posting them to YouTube more frequently.

I’m not sure training videos are what I want to create all the time, to be honest. But teaching is something I love, so I expect they’ll be a big part of my YouTube channel. The nice thing is, at least right now, the videos don’t have to pay my mortgage. That gives me a little freedom to do what I like, and not worry so much about monetization, narrowing my niche, etc, etc.

Add Some Revenue Streams

Yeah, this sorta goes against the last paragraph, but I had a little job scare this past year — and it really made me realize that having multiple income streams is a recipe for better sleep. I don’t need to be Jeff Bezos, but if my job were to end, I’d like to continue living indoors and eating on a regular basis. I don’t honestly know what those revenue streams will look like, or if they’ll come to fruition. I’ve decided that whatever I decide to “monetize” will need to be something I truly enjoy doing. That means something in the creative field, which means monetization will be difficult. But, like I said earlier, I currently have a good paying job, so it’s OK if I flounder a bit finding my feet.

Learn to Find Joy

This is the most vague of my plans. I’ll always struggle with mental illness, but that doesn’t mean I have to let it win all the time. Finding joy can mean so many things. Perhaps I’ll find joy serving in the Church again (my frustrations there are another whole post, or twelve). Maybe my webcomic will continue to scratch both a creative and therapeutic itch. If I manage to get into a groove and exercise more, perhaps fitness will provide those promised hormonal boosts I never seem to get. Honestly, I hope all of those things and more will contribute to some more joy in my life. It’s been a difficult couple years for the whole planet, and I’m no exception.

Anyway, enough about me. I have the day off today (thanks boss man!), and my plan is to enjoy it as much as I can. My birthday wish would be that you (yes YOU) have a wonderful day as well. And if you’re reading this after the actual day? Yes, it still counts. Today can be awesome for you. Have a great $CURRENT_DAY everyone. 🙂

Silent Days are the Worst

Social media tends to be a glimpse into the highlights of a person’s life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m the same person I am online that I am in person, but some things don’t get posted not out of shame, but out of inability. I try to make it clear that mental health is a real issue, and that I’m not immune to the one-two combo of anxiety and depression — but it’s difficult to write about it in the moment, and reliving the moment for the sake of documentation is often unpleasant.

Yesterday was that day for me. I was depressed. Very depressed. Self-sabotaging depressed. I did tweet, but even that was a “clever” tweet combining politics and religion in a way that was bound to draw hate responses. (It didn’t, because I wasn’t actually hateful, and my online friends are actually my friends, so I rarely get nasty anything online. I truly love you all.)

Anyway. Yesterday was bad. Today isn’t great, but I’m dressed and working today, so it’s significantly better. But depression has a funny way of hyper-focusing you on all the bad things in your life. Financial struggles. Relationship problems. Societal shortcomings and our response to them. Mortality. It takes those issues, and then coats them with a layer of insecurity, self-loathing, inferiority complexes, and hopelessness. Brains are real jerks.

I don’t have any profound message here — just wanted to document some crappy times along with the silly things in my life. I too wonder if my career benefits the world, worry I’ll never be able to retire, fear I’ll be a burden on my children or society when I’m old. I have existential crises, and I’m not always a great person to be around. But today is a fresh new day, and tomorrow will be another.

I’m doing OK today. Really. Just wanted to share the bits that aren’t fun to share. <3

25 (some)things.

I hate resolutions. I hate when people say they hate resolutions. But, here I am, hating resolutions. I also hate that I gained over 40lbs during 2020. All this hatred has to be redirected…

I didn’t start a resolution on the 1st, because if I miss one day, my OCD punishes me fiercely. So I often start a few days later. Then it’s just a thing I’m doing, and not a resolution for the year. Is it different? According to my broken brain, yes. Lol.

ANYWAY, this year, I partnered with a friend and co-worker to do an exercise accountability thing. He offered to do “something” with me daily (we’re on opposite sides of the country, so “together” means virtually and just encouragement from afar). I didn’t want our “thing” go get boring, so I came up with the idea of “25 Somethings”.

Here’s the gist: Every day, we need to so 25 of something, and message each other when we’ve done it. The 25 things can be anything. 25 pushups, 25 jumping jacks, 25 eye blinks — whatever you have the time and motivation to do. But we have to do 25 of something and then message each other when it’s done.

Yes, we could message each other that we “ate 25 Doritos” — but we’re only hurting ourselves in that case, and it’s honestly a little embarrassing to send a message like that to someone who responds with “ran 25 miles”. So sure, shame plays a part, lol.

Anyway — it’s been really awesome so far. I’m grateful for an accountability partner, and the 25 things has been great for both of us. Some days the 25 things are less awesome than others. For example, I’ve had several “25 jumping jacks” days in a row. That’s kinda lame, but it’s something I can do quickly with limited room. And it’s SOMETHING.

So there you go, if you’re looking for a pretty simple exercise accountability plan, feel free to steal ours. 25 things is simple, flexible, and has been pretty great. Happy New Year!

The Family Dashboard

NOTE: This was originally published in Linux Journal, back in 2017. I noticed this morning that my script is still running every day, and I have over 1,100 Bing photos saved locally!

I’ve written a little about PHP before, because I think it’s a great utility language for writing quick things you need to do. Plus, it allows you to use a web browser as your interface, and everyone has a web browser. That makes it very convenient for my family, because I can make simple web interfaces for the various things I normally have to do from the command line. (This is extremely useful when I’m gone to a conference and the Plex server needs to be rebooted, or any of a dozen other things need to be done that are hard to explain over the phone.)

My “Family Dashboard” will look different from yours, but the concept is pretty simple. PHP allows you to execute local functions on the server, and so as long as you can create a bash script that does what you need it to do, it can be launched from the “dashboard” you create for your family. Here’s a sample dashboard file I’ve created, so you can see how simple it is to create a custom page that does what you need it to do (see Figure 1 for a screenshot of the dashboard in action):

<html><head><title>My Dashboard</title></head>
<h3>You need to enter some commands and possibly options, or just press a button:<br />
<button onclick="window.location='lj.php?command=weather&option=houston'">Weather</button>
<button onclick="window.location='lj.php?command=bing'">Bing Photo</button>
<button onclick="window.location='lj.php?command=uname'">Kernel Name</button>
<button onclick="window.location='lj.php?command=time'">Unix Time</button>


$command = $_GET['command'];
$option = $_GET['option'];

switch ($command)
    case "weather":
        echo file_get_contents("http://wttr.in/$option");
    case "time":
        echo time() . "  <-- that's how I read time! I'm a robot!";
    case "bing":
        $json = json_decode(file_get_contents("http://www.bing.com/HPImageArchive.aspx?format=js&idx=0&n=1&mkt=en-US"), TRUE);
        $url = "http://bing.com" . $json['images']['0']['url'];
        echo "Here is the image of the day:\n";
        echo "<img src=$url />";
    case "uname":
        echo shell_exec("uname -a");
        echo "<h1>Press a button!</h1>";



Figure 1. My dashboard is simple, but it’s just a front end for the code beneath.

First off, copy and paste that code into a file called lj.php and save it onto your local web server. The server needs to have PHP active, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader to set up. I’ve written about installing a LAMP stack before, so it shouldn’t be too challenging to get a web server running with PHP support (see my article “PHP for Non-Developers” from the December 2014 issue) Also, naming the file “lj.php” is only important because if you look at the code, it references itself. If you name it something different, just change the references in the HTML/PHP code.

Before learning how the code works, test it out and watch it work. If you can’t host the file yourself, but want to see it in action, you can use my server for testing. Just head over to here, and it should redirect you to a hosted version of this file. Click the buttons, and see if you can figure out what’s going on. Can you get the local forecast for your area?

What’s with the GET and Switch Stuff?

It’s possible to create a separate PHP file for every action you need to accomplish. That is a lot of PHP files, however, and it still doesn’t give you the ability to receive input to use in the PHP file itself. I want my family to have a single URL, and I want all my code in a single file. It’s just easier that way. First I’ll explain what the $_GET variable does.

As you click the buttons on the page, you should look at the address bar on your browser. When you click on the weather button, for instance, you should see this in the address bar: http://your.server.here/lj.php?command=weather&option=houston.

That stuff at the end is how you tell the PHP script what information you want it to display. All the variables you assign are put into an array called $_GET. So in the weather example above, I’ve assigned two variables. To reference them inside the PHP script, you use the $_GET array. So in the URL above, these two variables are assigned:

$_GET['command'] = "weather";
$_GET['option'] = "houston";

And, you can use those variables in your PHP code. Notice that I’ve actually assigned those two variables to standard variable names, so that it’s easier to reference them later. You can change what variables are sent to the PHP script by changing the information in the URL. That allows the script to be dynamic and provide output based on the input you give it. In fact, the only reason pressing those buttons works is that it loads the page with the arguments already in place! See if you can get your local weather now by changing the “option” variable in the URL and loading the page. Cool, huh?

More Than Just Weather

Since you’re able to send your PHP script variables via the URL, that means your dashboard can do much more than just show the weather. Based on the variables, you can call different commands with the switch construct in PHP. It’s like a CASE statement in other languages, and the logic is pretty straightforward.

You run the switch statement on the $command variable assigned from the $_GET array. If the variable matches any of the options listed as a “case”, it executes the code in that section, then you break; out of the switch construct. If the $command variable doesn’t match any of the case options, the switch executes the default: section at the end. In this example, it’s a message to press a button.

Let’s look at each section to see what’s going on when you press a button (or manually enter the command in the URL).

The Part before the PHP

If you put standard HTML into a PHP file, and don’t enclose it between <?PHP ?> tags, it just sends it to the web browser as HTML code. So the top of the lj.php file is just plain HTML. The text is shown in <h3> tags, and the buttons are created with a little bit of JavaScript that allows them to load the URL specified. If the buttons and JavaScript make you uncomfortable, it’s okay to make standard text links that point where you want them. I just like buttons because they look cool.

It’s important to realize that the buttons aren’t doing anything other than loading the page with $_GET variables assigned in the URL. The buttons themselves don’t execute code, and aren’t anything fancy. You can type the URL out by hand and achieve the same thing. Your family will appreciate it if you make them links or buttons though, because clicking is much easier than typing long, complicated URLs!


If you click the weather button, or enter the URL by hand to send the $_GET['command'] and $_GET['option'] variables to the script with weather as the command, the switch statement will execute the code inside the case "weather": section.

This is a really simple command that just echoes (prints on the screen) the results from fetching the web page. The file_get_contents function in PHP will get the contents of a local file or a file on the internet. In this instance, you create the URL with your $option variable. If you clicked the button, you’ll notice $option is set to “houston”, but you can change the URL by hand in order to get your local weather. It will accept city names, ZIP codes and even airport codes.

The weather section of the script is the only one that looks at the $option variable, but it’s possible to assign as many variables as you want from the URL. If you assign a variable and it isn’t used, there’s no harm, it’s just ignored.

The Time?

The “time” section doesn’t return what you’d expect for a time button to return. In fact, I labeled the button that loads that page “Unix Time”, because I used the time() function in PHP, which displays the number of seconds that have elapsed since January 1, 1970. That might not seem like a terribly useful number, but it’s very convenient when programming, because you don’t have to parse out hours, minutes and so on. You can click (or refresh) the page a few times, and you should see the number increment.

UNIX time (sometimes called Epoch Time) is fun to play with, and although this example isn’t terribly useful, I wanted to include it so you could see how the time() command works, along with the echo command. If you look, there is a single period after the time() function. That concatenates the two items into a single string and displays it all together. If you click the button, you’ll see what I mean.

Bing? How Dare You Load a Microsoft Page!

The Bing photograph of the day is always awesome (Figure 2). Really, Microsoft does a great job of procuring incredible photos, and I love to see them. Since the URL is always different, this was a great way to show how to load JSON into a variable and then extract an array element. Don’t let the scary looking code intimidate you; JSON is really cool. Basically, you load the JSON from that long Bing URL and put it into a PHP array. Then, you form the URL for the photo from the contents of that array. Here’s a snippet of code you can use to see the array in a more readable form:


$json = json_decode(file_get_contents("http://www.bing.com/
↪HPImageArchive.aspx?format=js&idx=0&n=1&mkt=en-US"), TRUE);

echo "<pre>";
echo "</pre>";


Figure 2. The Bing photos are always so cool.

If you don’t have a server, head over to here to see the results of the PHP file. You can see where I got the information to build the URL for the image, and in the switch statement, you can see it just loads the image based on that URL. Isn’t JSON cool?

Local Scripts

This part of the switch statement is powerful, but also a little scary. If you click on the “Kernel Name” button, you can see it executes the code in the uname section of the switch statement. Using the shell_exec command, you can execute a file on the local server and show the results in the browser window. This is powerful because it means you can have your family execute local bash scripts by clicking on a button. But it’s a little scary, because you’re executing local commands on your server by clicking a button!

The script is executed with the permission of the web browser, so, for example, in Ubuntu running Apache, the www-data user would be executing the command. If that user doesn’t have permission to do something in the script, the script will fail. This is one of those “with great power comes great responsibility” things. It can be incredibly useful, but also incredibly dangerous, especially if your server is exposed to the internet!


Whenever I write PHP code, I make mistakes. Usually it’s a forgotten semicolon or a mismatched bracket. It can be very annoying when you load the page, and it’s suddenly just blank instead of showing you an error. In the last article I wrote about PHP, I showed how to turn on PHP errors so you could see in the web browser what’s going wrong. I don’t do that anymore, because it’s annoying to see PHP warnings when things are working fine. So what I do now is run php from the command line. If the code is broken, it will show errors on your command line, and you won’t have to worry about turning error logging on and off in your web browser. For example, in the example lj.php file, just go to the folder where it’s stored and type:

php lj.php

And the server will dump the HTML to your command line as if it were a web browser. If there’s an error, it will tell you what you did wrong. I like that method of error checking much more than getting error notifications in my web browser, but if you prefer to see them on the browser, look back to my PHP article from the December 2014 issue and see how to activate error logging.

Just like last time, I’m giving you only a taste of the sorts of things you can accomplish with PHP and a little ingenuity. If you come up with an interesting dashboard of your own, I’d love to see it, even if it’s just a screenshot. (Don’t expose your dashboard to the internet, especially if it controls your local server with shell_exec statements!) Feel free to email me at shawn@brainofshawn.com, but be sure to put “DASHBOARD” in the subject line, or I might assume it’s spam. I get so much darn spam!

The Done Manifesto

I only recently discovered this tiny bit of brilliance, even though it was written over a decade ago. It’s by Bre Pettis and Kio Stark, and released under Creative Commons, so I’m pretty sure I can post it here without being shady. (I don’t know where to link to originally, because Bre Pettis’ blog from 2009 is no longer live) First, the manifesto:

  1. There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
  2. Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
  3. There is no editing stage.
  4. Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
  5. Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
  6. The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
  7. Once you’re done you can throw it away.
  8. Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
  9. People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
  10. Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
  11. Destruction is a variant of done.
  12. If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
  13. Done is the engine of more.

The funny part for me is the controversy this seems to spark in people. If this resonates with you (as it does with me, to my very core), it makes perfect sense. It’s not even slightly suggesting a “good enough” attitude, or creating an environment for creating crappy products/results.

This manifesto is for perfectionists who are crippled by a need to make things perfect, or a fear of not being good enough. Or maybe both.

If you worry this list will make you produce mediocre work, this list is not for you.

If following this list seems like permission to do a job half way, this list is not for you.

If you think this list is stupid, and is fluffy nonsense, this list is not for you.

BUT. If this list resonates with your very soul, and reading it gives you the freedom to be as excellent as you truly are but never seem to show, this list IS for you.

Done is better than perfect. And imperfections are what make art beautiful. Don’t rob the world of your creations because they’re not perfect. The world doesn’t need perfect, it needs you. 🙂

PS: I want to buy this poster in the WORST way!