The Brain of Shawn https://brainofshawn.com/ The Thinks I Think Tue, 25 Oct 2022 23:06:07 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.1 https://brainofshawn.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/cropped-penguin-32x32.png The Brain of Shawn https://brainofshawn.com/ 32 32 2887356 The Scholastic Book Fair https://brainofshawn.com/2022/10/25/the-scholastic-book-fair/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/10/25/the-scholastic-book-fair/#respond Tue, 25 Oct 2022 23:06:07 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2718

I ran across a tweet someone had screenshotted and shared on Facebook recently, and is often my practice, I looked it up so I could give proper attribution to the original author. It turns out the tweet was from 2019, but it’s one of those tweets that only improves as it ages, proving its worthiness ... Read more

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I ran across a tweet someone had screenshotted and shared on Facebook recently, and is often my practice, I looked it up so I could give proper attribution to the original author. It turns out the tweet was from 2019, but it’s one of those tweets that only improves as it ages, proving its worthiness by how true it remains.

Now, I don’t actually believe in magic, per se. There are unexplainable things, amazing illusionists, and unimaginable technology that we just haven’t invented yet. But actual magic? In a practical sense, no. But there are a few things which come surprisingly close.

Music, and its ability to tie mathematical formulas to human emotion is about as close to magic as I can fathom. Part of it is how truly brilliant, beautiful music is defined by its perfect imperfections. And part of it is how something so mathematically definable is also pure art.

Speaking of art, it’s not just music, but all forms of art that I find absolutely baffling. Like how the human condition can be somehow quantified and expressed in a medium other than life itself. Whether it’s Mona Lisa’s smile, or Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” (often credited to Van Gogh, but that’s another story altogether) — art somehow defines the part of humanity that is more than flesh and bone.

And books. Books are basically the distilled bits of an author’s soul, inked into paper, as an indelible snapshot of that author in the moment. And books, possibly more than other artforms (for me at least), have the uncanny ability to transport the reader to another place. Another time. Another life. And I don’t just mean fiction or literature — even non-fiction, or technical books can let the reader live inside another human’s mind, even if only for a single train of thought. And that is why this Tweet resonated with me so deeply.

Like I referenced in my re-tweet, I grew up a poor kid. We survived on welfare, living in inner-city Detroit. Somehow, my mom not only got me accepted into a private school in Dearborn, but also managed to drive me there every day. There’s no way she could afford the tuition, and I don’t really know how she managed the gas money to drive the 30 minutes every morning and afternoon. But she did, and I’ll be forever grateful for the sacrifices she had to make in order to make it happen.

But we certainly did not have money for the Scholastic Book Fair books when those colorful flyers were sent home. I’ve seen them as an adult, and for a nerdy little kid who escaped into books; there just couldn’t be much more powerful marketing. But it didn’t matter, because buying books for entertainment just wasn’t feasible. That was OK, because I’d often walk myself to the library and check out books (which is how I got the love for them in the first place). Still, it didn’t make the lack of book on Scholastic Book Fair day any less painful.

I also mentioned in the tweet that due to a head injury, a car accident in 1999 specifically, I don’t remember my childhood. I don’t remember much of anything before March of ’99, to be completely honest, except for a few faint flashes of memory that my brain may or may not have recreated as a memory based on something someone told me. (Memory is a funny thing) But there are some things that managed to stick in my Swiss cheese brain, and my 2nd grade book fair experience is one of them.

Ms. Sanzo, whose first name I likely never knew, was my teacher. Somehow she knew I was a big Smurfs fan, and managed to quietly purchase some Smurf-themed book that was in the flyer that year. I don’t remember the book. I don’t actually remember Ms. Sanzo, apart from a vague mental image of an older woman who took surprisingly little crap from unruly youngsters. But I remember that she gave me the book, somehow relaying that it was really mine, and that she’d taken care of the payment. And the part I remember most is that she did it quietly. I was a poor kid in a private school. That was partially masked thanks to school uniforms, but the vast majority of students in my class were from wealthy families. Being outed as the “welfare case” would have been painful, and somehow she stopped that from happening.

Ms. Sanzo: If you’re still with us, it’s very unlikely you remember the poor, nerdy, bespectacled 2nd grader for whom you purchased a Smurf book. But your kindness, not only in deed, but in method, impacted my life so deeply that it’s one of the few memories I have of my childhood. Your act of love resonated in my life for decades, and forever changed who I became. And continues to play a role in who I strive to be.

Books are one of the closest things to magic that I can imagine. And much like a magic wand is little more than a conduit for magic itself — a book can be a conduit for kindness and generosity, assuming it’s wielded by a strong enough magician.

If you can help a child get a book, I encourage you to do so. You might just change the whole world. Or, just one small life. Either would be magical.

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Green Hair, Mustard Seeds, and Me https://brainofshawn.com/2022/09/28/green-hair-mustard-seeds-and-me/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/09/28/green-hair-mustard-seeds-and-me/#comments Wed, 28 Sep 2022 13:03:27 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2706

It’s been a couple weeks now, and my green hair is starting to fade. My light brown roots are peeking through, and since I don’t go many places, most people who will see me have seen me. And while I tweeted a short explanation, I haven’t gotten too detailed when explaining why my hair is ... Read more

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It’s been a couple weeks now, and my green hair is starting to fade. My light brown roots are peeking through, and since I don’t go many places, most people who will see me have seen me. And while I tweeted a short explanation, I haven’t gotten too detailed when explaining why my hair is green. Mostly because I was (am) angry, and it was hard to talk about it without being mean. And that rationale is sorta the whole point.

In order to really understand my green hair, however, you need to understand me a bit. I don’t really talk about my faith much publicly these days, and that’s been on purpose. Largely because what “Christian” seems to mean in society these days doesn’t really align with what it means to me personally. But also partially because I’m not a man of great faith. When I see Jesus talk (twice) about having faith as tiny as a mustard seed, my first thought is something like, “um, what about people with the faith of a basil seed?” (full disclosure: I haven’t gardened very much, basil seeds are probably not the smallest, they’re just the smallest I’m familiar with, and MUCH smaller than mustard seeds)

Shawn, Let Me Explain Matthew 17:20…

Please don’t. I already know. I really do. I’ve taught bible class, led youth group, served on deacon/elder boards, and heck even preached Sunday sermons. I’m familiar with conventional wisdom on the metaphor, and I’m not claiming that I’ve discovered some new, deeper, more holy meaning. No, when I consider the notion of small faith affecting change, I’m encouraged in spite of the biblical focus. Jesus was stressing that God is so great, even the smallest sliver of infinity is still infinity. (See? Old habits die hard. Here I am preaching…)

But what if my small faith is combined with weak belief and mountains of uncertainty? Is my basil seed of faith still enough to move mountains? Maybe. And, maybe not. The thing is, I still need to live my life in a way that seems right. And let’s be frank here, when I say “weak belief”, I’m not just throwing out church-y phrases. Do I believe in God? Sure, usually. I guess. But pretending to have a rock solid faith for the sake of saving church ladies from “the vapors” seems a bit un-Christian. Heh.

Bro, Do You Even Christian?

Yes. Yes, I consider myself a Christian. But only because Jesus seems to be someone worth following. Whether you think Jesus was/is the creator of the universe, becoming a man to redeem the world, or just a rebellious lover of humanity — he was a really awesome guy. I want to be like him, because he cared about the outcast, taught people to think instead of blindly obeying, valued people over anything else, and got furious at the exploitation of human beings by those in power. And Jesus was kind. He must have been, or the children wouldn’t have flocked around him.

So yes, while in many, many ways I do not identify with the modern, American version of “Christianity”, I do consider myself Christian. Maybe not a “good” Christian. Maybe not even a good representation of “Christ-like”, but inasmuch as I’m anything, I’m a person trying to be like Jesus. And most days, that’s enough for me. To be clear, that’s not enough for many folks, and so many will not consider me a Christian. That’s OK.

But Dude, if You’re Wrong [Insert Crackling Fire Sounds]

Yeah, so if you’re a Christian to avoid burning in Hell, you’ve missed the point. Maybe Hell is a place of fire and pain, maybe it’s a metaphor for separation from God. And maybe it’s simply a description of the empty worthlessness a life lived for selfish gain gets a person. I honestly don’t know. But I also don’t need to know.

The way I strive to live my life is not predicated on a promise of future reward. I don’t choose kindness so that someday I’m given an oceanfront view in heaven. Empathy is not a vehicle to riches, in this world or the next. And my motivation for helping others is not accrue favor from a higher being, but rather to, you know, help someone because they need help.

For what it’s worth, this is also why I’m far less concerned about people who aren’t Christians than traditional Christianity would dictate. And here is where I lose a lot of folks who were mostly ok with my particular take on living a Christ-like life. That’s OK. I’m not starting my own religion, and I’m not telling anyone they should “Christian” like I do. But here’s the thing, Jesus didn’t seem to be a guy overly concerned about technicalities. If there is an afterlife, and some metaphorical pearly gates, it seems like a pretty low-rent heaven that would allow douchebags with the proper punch card into eternal glory, and send caring, compassionate Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, etc., into eternal torture.

Does that mean I’m trying to do some magic hand-wavy trick to turn “the way, the truth, and the life” into a moralistic litmus test for heaven? Um, no. I don’t feel a need to do that. Again, my motivation for how I live my life is not a future reward. In fact I’ve always been suspect of folks who need that carrot in order to do the right thing. My little basil seed of faith is apparently sufficient to follow the example of Jesus, even if he doesn’t want to be friends with me afterward.

Ok. You’re Outta the Club

I know. No, seriously, I know. Writing this and posting it publicly will actually be sufficient cause to prevent me from holding a role as teacher or leader in a church. It will be a rationale for people who have been uncomfortable with my brand of living life to finally put me in the “other” camp. It might sever friendships, and it will disappoint people who thought I was someone else.

But that’s OK too.

I am a Christian, because I think Christ is someone worth following. I think the modern Christian Church resembles the Pharisees in the bible far more than it represents Jesus and his gang. And I can’t pretend to be something I’m not in order to fit in. That really doesn’t seem like the sort of thing Jesus did either. My faith might be tiny, but my resolve is not.

That Was a Lot. But, Why is Your Hair Green?

Heh. You still want to know? Cool. It’s difficult to explain without painting some folks in an unflattering light, but my hair is green because my daughter was treated poorly for dyeing her own hair. She was a volunteer assistant coach at the Christian school from which she graduated. Partway through the season, when she dyed her hair bright red, she was told she could no longer represent the school in public. There was a new rule, which she hadn’t been told about, that volunteers were not allowed to have unnaturally colored hair.

The rub, however, is that she was still allowed to help in practice, just not sit on the bench during games, or get announced as a coach during the pre-game. Her “look” was appropriate enough to exploit for free labor, but not “good enough” for the public to associate with the school in an official role. And she was gutted. So I dyed my hair in solidarity.

So What Now?

I dunno, coffee? I mean, it’s not like I’ve suddenly changed who I am, and my life is on a different trajectory. If I haven’t been living my life loud enough that people are shocked to learn I was a heathen all along, well, maybe things change for them. As for me, I’ll continue to live life the best way I know how. When presented with new information, I’ll change my views accordingly. If given a choice between kindness and and cruelty, I’ll strive for the former, while rallying against the latter. And with all my shortcomings, failings, poor choices, and inevitable mistakes: I’ll try to leave this world a little better than I found it. Regardless of where my next stop might be.

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The Wonder and Misery of Empathy https://brainofshawn.com/2022/09/22/the-wonder-and-misery-of-empathy/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/09/22/the-wonder-and-misery-of-empathy/#comments Thu, 22 Sep 2022 19:18:56 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2695

I think empathy is one of the most valuable skills or traits that we can master as human beings. It allows us to see beyond ourselves, and function as a group in a way that allowed society to develop. At some point, however, we started seeing empathy as a weakness. I’m not sure when it ... Read more

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I think empathy is one of the most valuable skills or traits that we can master as human beings. It allows us to see beyond ourselves, and function as a group in a way that allowed society to develop. At some point, however, we started seeing empathy as a weakness. I’m not sure when it happened, or the exact mechanism that brought it about — but the almost magical ability for humans to internalize and understand the situations of others turned into a “hinderance” to the advancement of… something.

I hope it’s part of some strange societal pendulum that can swing back. Because when we value and understand the struggles of others, it helps us advance as a group, instead of just changing our relative success by pushing others down. A rising tide lifts all boats, and all that. But building a civilization is a long game, and especially short term, it doesn’t always make logical sense for the players to empathize with each other. Perhaps that’s why empathy is seen as a weakness, instead of the world-changing gift it is. Empathy makes us see each other as one, rather than focusing on our individual short games.

But Empathy Sucks

When I was around 8 years old, I visited my dad. He and my mom split up when I was very young, but when I turned 8 I got to fly out to Colorado and spend a few weeks with him. When I arrived, he gave me my very first pocket knife. Along with the coolest gift an 8 year old could imagine, came a sharpening stone and a lesson on how to keep the blades sharp. Because, I was sternly told, there’s nothing more dangerous than a dull knife.

I didn’t really get it at the time, but dull knives tend to slip when they don’t cut cleanly. And slipping means the potential for cutting yourself or others. The point was driven home the next week when my dad bought us both some beef jerky from a roadside stand. He opened his pocketknife, and cut off a piece of jerky, holding it between his thumb and blade, easily cutting off a piece to pop into his mouth. I’d been spending the bulk of every day whittling any stick I could find, and so my blade had gotten a bit dull. When I tried to cut a piece of jerky like he demonstrated, I had to sorta saw the blade back and forth toward my thumb while squeezing with all my might. Thankfully I only gave myself a little cut as I see-sawed the blade — but the salty beef jerky combined with the disappointed stare from my dad was enough drive the point home. It’s important to keep your tools sharp.

Empathy is much the same. When you keep your empathetic skills honed, it’s more likely that you’ll be affected by the suffering of others around you. A friend of mine is currently struggling with one of their teenage children. Behavioral issues, violence, and all the things you hope to never experience with your own children. As I try to empathize with this friend, it hurts. There’s very little I can do apart from offer a kind ear, and a safe place to scream — so by understanding and internalizing their pain, it causes me pain too.

Plus, when I look at the world as “us” rather than “me/them” — it forces me to make decisions, big and small, based on how they might benefit everyone. Or at least not negatively affect others just to provide personal benefit to me. And, if I stopped this blog post here, you might not see empathy as a weakness exactly, but at the very least a burden. And sure, in some respects, it hurts when you empathize the hurts of others. But the opposite is true too.

Empathy is a Ticket to Celebration Town

When you’re empathetic toward the situations of others, you suffer when they suffer, but you also win as they win. If you’ve ever secretly been jealous when someone you know has something incredible happen to them, that jealousy can flip to joy with a bit of empathy. Allow yourself to imagine the joy they’re experiencing, putting yourself in their shoes, and just like taking on other’s pain — you can share in their joy.

Watching these videos, it’s hard NOT to share in the joy of little black girls seeing The Little Mermaid look just like them.

The crazy thing is, empathy even works with your competitors. Did your team recently lose a hard fought battle against a team that was less skilled? That stinks. But imagine how those players feel winning a grueling competition against a team that was better than them?!? Don’t get me wrong, even the most empathetic among us still get frustrated, still get angry, and despise the injustice we see around us. Losing a game you should have won certainly seems like an injustice, and perhaps it is. But seeing each other as part of a bigger “us” rather than a separate “them” can take the sting out of such things a bit.

Look, Some People are Horrible

But Shawn, what about people who purposefully (and successfully!) get ahead by pushing others down? Why should we choose to empathize with others, when so many take advantage of people and then succeed when they do so?!? How can I “empathize joy” for someone who buys a yacht while their employees have to pee in Gatorade bottles because they’re not allowed time for bathroom breaks? Am I supposed to feel happy for the people who scam the elderly out of their money? For drug dealers with mansions squeezing addicts into crime?

Whoa there, Shawn’s cynical alter ego. No. No you’re not supposed to be happy about those things.

When you’re being empathetic, those ill-gotten gains are not joyful. In fact, I don’t think it’s real joy at all. The sort of happiness you get from greed and blind taking-at-the-expense-of-others is a pretty hollow brand of joy. If you’ve ever experienced joy while other people are also happy FOR you, it’s a night and day difference. No, in those frustrating circumstances above, we do empathize — but with the people who were swindled, or squeezed, or exploited. And we use that pain and frustration to make the world a little bit better for us as a group. We use that righteous anger to make systemic change which lifts everyone’s boats. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:

That Was a Great Ending to the Blog Post. Why are You Still Writing?

I know, right? Ending with a Gandhi quote wraps it up nicely. I’m totally ruining the vibe. But, Gandhi didn’t actually say that. It’s a paraphrase. And it’s not a terrible paraphrase, to be honest. I think the mis-quoted quote is powerful and succinct. But it’s easy to miss the bigger point he was making. Here’s the actual quote, from which is where the paraphrase is taken:

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

– Mahatma Gandhi

See, it was a call to action — but perhaps a bit more complex than just a motivational call to activism and policy changing. It certainly means those things, but Gandhi was clearly talking about changing ourselves. By changing who we are, and how we see the world (specifically for this blog post, how we see other people), we effectively change the world.

Yes, by changing ourselves we only change a very small part of the world as a whole. But we each have our sphere of influence. And kindness, empathy, and genuine care for others is the sort of fulfilling lifestyle that is hard to ignore. My hope is that it’s contagious. And unlike the sort of viral spread we’ve seen over the past few years, an epidemic of empathy is something we should never vaccinate against!

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If You Can’t Do Something Perfect… https://brainofshawn.com/2022/08/25/if-you-cant-do-something-perfect/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/08/25/if-you-cant-do-something-perfect/#respond Thu, 25 Aug 2022 17:46:20 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2681

Just don’t do anything at all? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not a healthy motto to live by, but it sure does resonate with me. I’ve always struggled with perfectionism, and it sorta ambushed me this week. It’s been a while since I’ve been paralyzed by it. That’s mostly because my creative efforts of late ... Read more

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Just don’t do anything at all? Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s not a healthy motto to live by, but it sure does resonate with me. I’ve always struggled with perfectionism, and it sorta ambushed me this week. It’s been a while since I’ve been paralyzed by it. That’s mostly because my creative efforts of late have all been on my own dime, burning my own time.

But that changed this past week.

After literally months of stalling, last week I opened a Patreon page. Within moments, I had multiple supporters, or “Patrons”, and it was both humbling and flattering at the same time. People actually supporting me with their money smacks a little different than people being supportive in general. It’s a sacrifice real human beings are making in order to facilitate my creative endeavors.

So, of course the things I create need to be absolutely perfect. Because they deserve that, don’t they? They’re PAYING for me to create things both for them, and for others. With that additional income, it means I can invest more time into making even better content. And you see where this is going, right?

It’s currently Thursday. I’ve created exactly zero things this week. And yes, it’s been a particularly challenging week at DayJob, which required writing new code and inventing solutions to very specific problems with our very unique set of needs. So I could soothe my ego by claiming it’s been a super busy week, which of course is why I haven’t been able to let my creative juices flow.

But that would be at most partially true.

Like I said earlier, my perfectionism sorta ambushed me. I’d forgotten how crippling it can be to feel the pressure of expectation. It was a problem when I made training videos commercially, and apparently it’s a problem when I’m being supported by individual patrons too. The good news is I recognize it this time. It took years of poor performance and constant anxiety before I realized what was wrong with me in the past.

So what I’m say is, please don’t stop supporting me, those incredible people who do so financially and verbally/commentarily. I will get back on track in short order, and produce the same inconsistent mediocrity you’ve come to expect from me. (That self-deprecation? Yep, it’s still a feature as well, lol) I’m continually amazed and humbled by people desiring the same sorts of things I do. Luckily for me, those things include empathy and patience. I’ve really picked the best group of folks with which to bond.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to publish this before I decide it’s not quite good enough to share…

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Shame https://brainofshawn.com/2022/08/18/shame/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/08/18/shame/#comments Thu, 18 Aug 2022 15:26:37 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2673

Before I start, it’s important to know that I’m not writing this to convince anyone to send money. We’ll be OK, truly. I’m writing this because much like depression, shame withers in the light. I don’t want the specter of “what if someone finds out” to live in my brain, rent free. And perhaps hearing ... Read more

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Before I start, it’s important to know that I’m not writing this to convince anyone to send money. We’ll be OK, truly. I’m writing this because much like depression, shame withers in the light. I don’t want the specter of “what if someone finds out” to live in my brain, rent free. And perhaps hearing our misfortune will help someone else avoid a similar one.

In order to understand how someone could have $12,518.42 stolen from them without noticing, it’s important to explain our situation over the past 18 months or so. Because on the surface, the notion of losing that much money and not noticing seems like wealth and privilege at an incomprehensible level. If exposing financial information makes you uncomfortable, you might want to click away, because I’ll be using some real numbers.

In the middle of the pandemic, my job changed. Part of that change included no longer receiving employer-sponsored healthcare. I receive a generous stipend, but it doesn’t come close to covering a solo plan. So we added some out of pocket money to the stipend, and started paying for COBRA. (That allows us to keep the healthcare from my last job, paying the full premium plus administrative fees for up to 18 months)

We also have adult children in their early 20s. They were underemployed thanks to the pandemic, and we have been helping them make ends meet. Plus, Donna’s part-time teaching position was even more part time this past school year. Add to that a massive repair bill on my aging pickup truck, existing debt from our barn experience — and the stage is set for a pretty rough financial gauntlet.

With our new expenses and decreased income, it was clear that we would be making less than we spend every month. We had about $17,000 in the bank, and about $20,000 of credit available across our 5 credit cards. Knowing that would only keep us afloat temporarily, we started doing everything we could to add income while decreasing expenses. Sadly, most of our expenses are fixed, and while we could have canceled Netflix, that small savings in the middle of a pandemic didn’t seem worth it. Anyway, we were going deeper into debt every month, but surviving.

Donna took as many sub positions as she could on the days she wasn’t teaching. I worked my DayJob as a sysadmin, and then started cartooning, writing, and creating training videos for YouTube. While my efforts might smack a bit of mid-life crisis, the bulk of my previous career was making training videos, and I’d been a professional writer for years at Linux Journal. The only oddball item was my daily comic, but since I found the process relaxing, it was almost a daily therapy session for me.

So for the past year plus, we’ve been using credit cards for everything possible, and paying the minimum balance due, with additional payments as more money came in. We knew our credit card debt would rise, and our bank account would dwindle, but the hope was to slow the bleeding until I started to bring in some serious revenue from my after work endeavors. It would certainly take a while, but the clock we were trying to beat was a combination of “not running out of money and credit” plus “we have 18 months of COBRA”.

I’d like to say we had a clearer plan, or even a more succinct goal. Unfortunately, we just had stress, chaos, and a faint hope that “something” would give. Perhaps I’d get a job offer that included benefits. Perhaps the school where Donna worked would offer a medical plan. Maybe my YouTube channel would take off, or my comic would go viral. But what it actually meant was many, many credit card charges, and many, many payments to credit cards coming out of our shrinking checking account.

And that’s how it happened.

Back in September of 2021, lost in our myriad of credit card payments, a new credit card payment posted. “Credit One Bank” took an ACH payment for $182.95 out of our account. That’s about the size of other credit card payments that constantly come out of our account, and at first glace I assumed it was our Meijer credit card, which is a branded card from one of the countless credit companies.

As the months went on, there were more and more payments from “Credit One Bank”, all varying from the $100-$300 range, which again, matched our other credit card payments surprisingly close. Looking back, I should have seen it. Of COURSE I should have seen it. There were 4 days in a row where $182.75 was taken out. And while I don’t remember seeing those payments, I probably saw them and assumed I was looking at the same payment. But I didn’t notice.

See, our account balances were changing in just the way we expected them to change. Our credit card debt was rising, and our bank account was shrinking. That’s not ideal, but it wasn’t unexpected. And so we weren’t suspicious that something was wrong. We saw that our money was going away faster than we hoped, and so we focused harder on making more money, not picking apart our bank statements. Heck, we probably subconsciously avoided looking at our bank statements, because we knew it would only add stress to an almost unbearably stressful situation!

And then this month, August 2022, 11 months after that first “Credit One Bank” payment snuck into our life, we ran out of money. Our mortgage payment bounced because its auto-withdrawal happened a couple days before my paycheck was deposited. I had already moved the posting date, because I saw the writing on the wall, but even that only kicked the can down the road a month. Our checking account was in the red, we’d gotten multiple overdraft fees applied on top (because other smaller payments were trying to clear after the account went negative). And only a couple of our credit cards had credit available at all.

It’s embarrassing. And it sucks. But things like Twitter verification, a Wikipedia page, and a well-known-in-certain-circles name does not always equal the underlying financial success it hints at.

So anyway, my paycheck posted, and our account was limping along in the black again. Since our credit was about dried up, we’d been strategically deciding what to pay and when to pay it. So our credit card payments, even the minimum amount due, had to be timed to our paychecks. And that brings us to this week. Yesterday, in fact. My paycheck wasn’t due to post until today (the 18th), and I was watching our account balance like a hawk, making sure nothing tried to clear before my paycheck was in there. And wouldn’t you know it, Credit One Bank was posting a payment for $168.64.

I KNEW I hadn’t made a payment, because after the mortgage fiasco, our balance was too low for that. And so when I logged in to all our various credit card accounts, trying to figure out why one of them automatically made a payment, I couldn’t find a payment for that amount. Anywhere.

And of course then I started looking at our account history, and quickly realized what I should have realized 11 months ago. Someone was making a credit card payment with our account, but it wasn’t us. Or at least, it wasn’t only us. As I searched the transaction history, I found that over the past 11 months, there have been 54 payments taken out. The dates and amounts are fairly random, but vary from $100-$350 or so. And added together, they equal $12,518.42. It turns out that initial $17,000 we had in our account wasn’t dwindling as quickly as we thought, or at least we weren’t “dwindling” it.

I spent most of yesterday talking to the bank, and to the police. Today I have to drive back to the bank (and hour drive, one way, ugh) to finish closing our compromised account and set up a new one so we can continue making our mortgage payments, car payment, and credit card payments. And now, I need to fight to get money back from “Credit One Bank”, even though in my communications with them yesterday have proven to be anything but helpful.

Our bank, Straits Area Federal Credit Union, has shifted a bit. At first, they told me all they could do was stop further withdrawals by charging me a $25 stop payment fee. But after talking to the police officer as I filed a report, he encouraged me to go physically to the main office, and talk to someone a bit higher up the food chain. I’m glad I did, because now they’re going to reimburse me for the previous 60 days, and for some reason the first 60 days of fraudulent charges. Assuming that happens (I’m signing paperwork today), it will put $4,595 back into my new account. The remaining $7,923.37 will likely never get recovered. But I will be sending all the information to “Credit One Bank”, and hoping they do the right thing. Regardless of the outcome, it will take months before I know anything.

I’m not gonna lie, while that $4,595 will be incredibly helpful in the short term, we’re clearly still teetering on the edge of disaster. Thankfully, there’s a bit of good news in this bleak story.

When summer started, Donna clearly couldn’t get anymore subbing jobs, so she applied for a part time position at one of our favorite places on earth. McLean & Eakin Booksellers. She got the job, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen her love what she does more than when she’s working at the bookstore. The owners must recognize how much she was made for the job, and without prompting, called Donna in to offer her a full time, year round position. And believe it or not, this small town, independent bookstore provides health insurance for their full time employees.

Health. Care. Insurance.

Our COBRA eligibility runs out in November, and we did not have a plan for what we were going to do after that. The middling insurance plan I was quoted to buy on our own was over $30,000/yr, and that was without dental or optical. Donna getting a job that provided healthcare was unexpected, and the most amazing news we’d gotten in a very long time. I don’t even know what the plan will look like, but it honestly doesn’t matter, because whatever the benefits include will be more than that nothing we could afford once November hits.

I cried like a blubbering idiot. And that, I’m not ashamed of.

Look, we’re far from being financially stable. My napkin math shows that we have about $65,000 in credit card debt, one mortgage with $60,000 remaining, another with $100,000 remaining, and a car loan with $13,000 still outstanding. My DayJob isn’t in immediate jeopardy, but I maintain datacenters for servers that operate in the cryptocurrency world, so longevity and stability are not guaranteed. But in spite of this current financial setback with Credit One Bank, we actually have a bit more hope than we’ve had in a while.

Donna will be working full time, starting some time before November. My YouTube channel was recently monetized, and while it’s only bringing it $100 or so a month, it’s a start. I’ve been working with an editor about a potential book deal, and while my comic hasn’t taken off — I still really enjoy it, and perhaps someday others will enjoy it too. I’ve even built up enough content on YouTube, that I don’t feel bad starting a Patreon page for people who want to support my creative endeavors. (It’s not live yet, but once I get the patron benefits sorted this week, it might be one more trickle of income)

So yeah. It’s been a rough month. But it’s also been a good month. We really will be OK, and my intent is certainly not to make anyone worry about us. We didn’t fall for a scam, and yet we ended up losing the bulk of our “cushion” in arguably the worst time ever. My hope is that everyone looks a bit closer at their checking account after reading this, and if you do end up a victim of bank fraud — know that someone else’s evil is not a character flaw of yours. Be kind, maybe especially to yourself. It’s easy to be like Blue, and since I draw him, I know it first hand.

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Success https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/24/success/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/24/success/#comments Sun, 24 Jul 2022 15:53:49 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2657

Five years ago, my wife Donna and I invested our entire nest egg into buying an old farm in Brutus, MI. We refurbished the old barn, and created a young adult ministry, because there wasn’t one in the area. It turned out almost exactly like we pictured it, but then when it was still in ... Read more

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Five years ago, my wife Donna and I invested our entire nest egg into buying an old farm in Brutus, MI. We refurbished the old barn, and created a young adult ministry, because there wasn’t one in the area. It turned out almost exactly like we pictured it, but then when it was still in its infancy, Emmet County shut us down. It was actually quite ugly, and they threatened to condemn the property if we even had a bible study in the farmhouse.

“The Barn” in its heyday…

So now, rather than the vibrant ministry we hoped to launch, Donna and I have a mountain of debt, a second property to pay taxes on, and a really nice barn we’re not allowed to use. It’s really easy to feel angry, foolish, and defeated.

But.

The young adults who were part of the fledgling ministry did not get shut down. They continued to meet in other locations. They kept meeting for worship music, bible studies, and fellowship. In fact, the core group of people still meet to this day, years after the actual barn was shut down. They still call their group “The Barn”, even though many of the current group members were not around when the actual barn was involved.

Over the past 5 years, 4 couples who met or got their start at the barn have gotten married. One of them is my eldest daughter, the singer in the video clip above. Her and her husband are expecting their first child, and our first grandchild, in September. The group of young adults that got started at our short-lived ministry continues to grow and flourish, even though my wife and I are no longer a part of it at all. Our barn sits empty, but I’m not sure I can consider it a failure.

Our goal when we started The Barn was to create a community of young adults who could grow together, and lean on each other as they transitioned to adulthood. We always intended for the group to take over once it was established. We wanted… exactly what happened. It just wasn’t exactly the way we expected it to happen.

Donna and I can always make more money. We can have a bit less extravagant retirement, which can start a few years later than we intended. Because when we decided to invest everything we had into the lives of the young adults we cared for, our intent was to change their lives, not create a business. And their lives are not only changed, but continue to change new lives who only know “The Barn” as a weird name that references some place they used to meet.

The Barn is both the biggest failure, and largest success we’ve had the pleasure to be involved in. It didn’t turn out like we planned, and yet it also ended up much better than we ever hoped.

Success, it seems, comes in many flavors.

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An Open Letter to Shaun Lamp, CEO of Great Lakes Energy https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/21/an-open-letter-to-shaun-lamp-ceo-of-great-lakes-energy/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/21/an-open-letter-to-shaun-lamp-ceo-of-great-lakes-energy/#respond Thu, 21 Jul 2022 18:18:19 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2637

Hello Shaun, A few months back, I got an email from GLE, which announced your new position as CEO (congrats!), along with other updates about service, fiber internet rollout, etc. One of the things I noticed in the email was that Great Lakes Energy doesn’t actually produce electricity, but buys it from a local supplier. ... Read more

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Hello Shaun,

A few months back, I got an email from GLE, which announced your new position as CEO (congrats!), along with other updates about service, fiber internet rollout, etc. One of the things I noticed in the email was that Great Lakes Energy doesn’t actually produce electricity, but buys it from a local supplier. I’m sure it’s more complex than that, but nevertheless, it got me thinking.

A couple years ago, Great Lakes Energy started a truly remarkable endeavor to provide fiber-to-the-home for all GLE members. And Truestream was born. It was, and continues to be a huge project, which I’m sure cost many millions of dollars to roll out. And as a business-class fiber customer at my farm in Brutus, I can tell you, the efforts were successful. I’m assuming there were grants and other financial resources available to you in order to help fund the connection of so many folks who otherwise had no decent options for broadband Internet service. I wonder if the same might be true for electricity… A couple days ago I got this email:

And it got me thinking. Again. What if Great Lakes Energy worked with its members, and facilitated the installation of solar and/or wind generation at the individual homes? Many of us are in rural locations, and have the space to install systems that would not only offset carbon emissions, but with grid-tying, you could buy some of the electricity you provide from your own people.

I’m not saying this without understanding many complexities exist. While solar installations would certainly help with the issue presented in the email, solar power is timed very poorly for energy needs in the winter. This is exacerbated by our eventual need to move away from burning fossil fuels to heat our homes. If we all use electric heat pumps (which, we totally should, and almost certainly will eventually), the demand for electricity will increase at night when the sun is not helping produce any power at all.

Good Point, We Should Forget the Whole Thing…

But see that’s where Great Lakes Energy could really help blaze a trail. Who better to solve the issues of energy production, distribution, storage, and independence than an electrical CO/OP who has already proven their ability to think big, and actually follow through? There will always be people like me, who have an off-grid inverter setup, with a battery bank in order to make it through potential downtimes. And less nerdy versions of me who have a standby generator in case things go sideways. But those solutions are very self-focused, and if we want to be leaders, we need to work together as the CO/OP we are. There are so many things individuals like myself can’t do alone. But a huge part of those challenges are just another Tuesday for you. Things like:

  • Testing, approving, and possibly bulk purchasing hardware for grid tied inverters, solar panels, and mounting hardware that will work well, work safely, and provide people with the appropriate hardware for their needs and/or desires.
  • Working with local government entities to provide clear, simple guidelines, and when local governments are unwilling to cooperate, shine light on the issue so that progress doesn’t die in a pile of paperwork.
  • Work with installers, either hiring, contracting, or at the very least facilitating reputable professionals connecting with members.
  • Work with folks like myself, who are passionate about such things, to educate and even help people find the line between DIY and professional installations. What can we do on our own? What should we? What shouldn’t we?

Heh, Yeah, We Already Do That

Well… about that. Yes, you have multiple programs. Three that I’m aware of, kinda. Two of them seem like the same thing worded differently. But they’re not nearly the same level of active participation as the fiber Internet initiative. Let’s talk about them, purposefully from my viewpoint, because I suspect I’m more aware of these things than most folks, and much less aware than you.

Community Solar. This appears to be a partnership with a 3rd party organization, Spartan Solar. You sort of “adopt a panel”, which is installed and maintained in a solar farm by the Spartan Solar folks. You pay for a panel, and get credited by the energy it produces. I’m certain those credits are based on averages and percentages, and are reduced by maintenance cost and financial solvency, etc, etc. On paper, this is very likely the absolute best way to implement solar in the most efficient way possible.

The problem is, it’s just a line item on a piece of paper. And apart from an abstract good feeling, there aren’t any real benefits to the end user. If your power goes out, your adopted solar panel doesn’t know, doesn’t care, and will not keep your cellphone charged so you can watch netflix during the ice storm. I suspect the interest in Community Solar isn’t zero, but also isn’t earth shattering. It’s just moving numbers on a monthly bill. If we’re going to change the world, it needs to feel real.

When you produce power on your roof, and you can see graphs of output and usage, things change. If you want to see someone get radical about energy savings, show them the data. Not abstract kilowatt hours of monthly usage, but daily watts produced and stored vs watts used. The reason people don’t take climate change seriously is they don’t experience it first hand, at least not in a way that feels real and addressable. Am I suggesting we gamify our electrical usage? YES! Members connected reliably to the Internet with fiber only makes that more possible. If people realize it takes a dozen huge solar panels in full sunlight to run their air conditioning, it becomes a tangible reason to add insulation and get better windows.

Net-Metering and Buy-All/Sell-All. From what I can tell by reading the PDF files (which were clearly written by lawyers), this is the ability for a limited number of members to pay extra for a smart meter, and then sell back excess energy they produce. This is great, truly. That said, I have no idea if the 10MW limit specified in the document has been reached, or if the program is still available. I also don’t have any idea how much extra members need to pay for smart meters to facilitate the process. And most importantly, the “how-to” bit is not only confusing, but intimidating and pretty much unattainable without lots of professional investment.

Such things are complicated, and intimidating. I get it. When you add governmental regulations, both local and regional, it’s a non-starter for the vast majority of folks. Even myself. But like I mentioned above, these regulations and interoperability with governments are what you do every day. What if there were a group of local installers, electricians, buying cooperatives (ahem, GLE), and people who know the intricacies of rolling out real community-based initiatives? What if you could show graphs on your website of the percentage of power purchased from members vs from a 3rd party? What if a farmer with a south-facing clearing could install enough solar panels to make a bit of income each month while supplying all their own power/heating/cooling needs?

OK, Sure, But That’s Not a Plan.

Right. My hope is that we can make it easier for people to install things like solar. This will require several things:

  • Education. This is the part I can actually help accomplish. Remember when I was one of the first folks to get fiber Internet installed, and y’all took pictures, etc? (It’s ok if you don’t remember, you weren’t there personally) Let’s expand that idea. Let’s highlight various solar/wind/battery/inverter installations members have in place, or plan to put in place. I’m an educator who is comfortable making video. Let’s show people what’s possible!
  • Easy Access. Most people I know with solar installations got the hardware and labor as part of a contract, which makes their payment and saved electrical usage just about a wash. That requires capital, and I would bet there are governmental grants to help facilitate such things. I’m really nerdy, and really into this stuff. Yet I have no idea how to get something like a solar panel system installed. That’s partially on me, but it points to a bigger problem: No one knows what is possible, much less how to accomplish it.
  • Incentive. It needs to be sexy. There is so much more we need to do than just putting solar panels on houses. But getting people to be active participants in the energy conversation seems like a really good first step. This is mostly marketing, but wouldn’t it be great to have an actionable alternative to the rolling blackouts mentioned in the email above? “Use less power” is an admirable goal, but long term it’s not sustainable. The future will be powered by electricity, and being proactive about scaling our power needs before garages are filled with electric vehicles seems like an even more admirable goal!

I truly can’t think of any other entity more poised to lead the way toward a cleaner, more self-sufficient nation. Once we are more actively involved with producing electricity, and owning the process — things like transitioning away from propane furnaces become a much easier conversation. But the first step is to get people interested in having the conversation. And making everyone an active part of the process seems like a good way to start.

So drop me a line, Shaun. Let’s change the world, starting in one of the most unlikely places — our own backyards.

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How THIS Keeps Happening https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/07/how-this-keeps-happening/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/07/how-this-keeps-happening/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2022 18:34:08 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2643

It occurred to me today that I’m not really sure if the things I publish are the things I allow to get out of my think-meat, or if they’re things I can’t keep inside it. It probably doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but my brain (jerk that it is) thinks a ... Read more

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It occurred to me today that I’m not really sure if the things I publish are the things I allow to get out of my think-meat, or if they’re things I can’t keep inside it. It probably doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, but my brain (jerk that it is) thinks a lot. A LOT.

Now, I’ve always assumed that I objectively look at all the thinky thinks, and then determine, “ah yes, this kernel of insight is worthy of the masses.” But, yeah, no. I’m rarely, if ever, proud of the stuff I write. I might be proud of myself for sharing things, but never do I think, “This. This is what people need to hear.” Other people say things much better than I do, and they’re almost always more qualified to say things betterer than me. (Apart from a very, VERY narrow area of expertise. I’m pretty confident with my Kool-Aid making skillz…)

So what I write, like this for instance, is almost certainly not because I think it will make the world a better place. And I know I don’t do it for praise, because for my spheroid-jiggly-ponder-box, praise is a double-edged sword.

(Short explanation: “Shawn, that was incredible” makes me very much assume that whatever I just created is now the low bar for all future creations, and if it really WAS good, then I might as well not bother, because I’ll never create something that good again, and if I make something worse, I’ll let down everyone.)

I guess that means whatever I end up publishing is just think-juice I couldn’t quite keep inside. I suppose writing is my emotional outlet. But even that doesn’t explain why I click “Publish”, because there are plenty of drafts here on my bloggity-blog that will never see the light of day. So it’s more than just a need to write, because writing doesn’t need publishing to be an outlet for emotion. (See also: Diaries. But no, I don’t have a diary. OMG, is *this* my diary?) So why do I publish anything, ever?

Maybe narcissism? Maybe I seek the self-destructive praise of others? Maybe I hope that one person will read my escaped thoughts and realize they’re not alone in this weird, judgmental world? I honestly don’t know. But for some reason, I often feel compelled to share my thoughts, even when they’re weird, or personal, or scary, or all of the above. Apparently creating and sharing are very different endeavors. A lot of what I create isn’t shared — but a surprisingly large percentage of it is.

I was talking to a friend today about the “highlight reel” aspect of most social media. Many, or maybe most folks share the best and happiest parts of their day, or they make sure the part of their persona that lives “in frame” is squeaky clean and perfect. There’s the other side of that coin, when people post about how bad things are, looking for either help, or pity, or even just attention. But the mundane seldom makes it on Instagram. Or blog posts. Yet, here we are.

SO my fellow creators, I have two questions:
1) Why do you create?
2) How do you decide what to share?

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Depression is Me https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/02/depression-is-me/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/07/02/depression-is-me/#comments Sat, 02 Jul 2022 18:31:45 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2628

I’m currently depressed. I think. I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and so maybe any time I’m depressed, that’s the “reason” it happens. But also, depression is different for everyone. I’m confident of that, because depression is often different for ME, and I’m the same person as me. Still, I wonder if what I’m ... Read more

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I’m currently depressed. I think. I’ve been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, and so maybe any time I’m depressed, that’s the “reason” it happens. But also, depression is different for everyone. I’m confident of that, because depression is often different for ME, and I’m the same person as me. Still, I wonder if what I’m experiencing now is depression, or frustration, or post-covid-exhaustion fueled existential dread. Also, does it matter?

You’ve probably heard the story of the girl and the starfish. It’s been adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley. Here’s my quick verison:

A man was walking on the beach, and came across a little girl. She was picking up starfish from the shore, which were washed up during a storm and stranded when the tide went out. As she feverishly tossed starfish after starfish back into the ocean, the man asked her what she was doing.

“These starfish got stuck when the tide went out, and if I don’t get them back into the water, they’ll die,” she said.

“Yes, but there are thousands of starfish, and miles of beach. Even if you’re here all day, you won’t make a real difference.”

The girl slumped her shoulders, and looked forlorn. Then, a few moments later, she marched over to another starfish and tossed it into the surf. She turned to the man defiantly and said, “Well I made a difference to that one!”

I love the starfish story. It reminds me that regardless of how small my influence on the world might be, every little thing I do is important. Over the years, my level of “fame” has waxed and waned. This story helps me separate the “amount” of change I can make in the world from the “significance” of the change. Usually, that realization is enough to keep me going.

But depression is an almost sentient evil which short circuits logic and reason, and rewires our emotions in a way to make everything seem hopeless and insignificant. I know it’s not true, but when depression wields its ugly sword, intellectual knowledge doesn’t seem to matter. And since the depression is a part of me, dwelling in the deep and slimy parts of my brain, it knows all my weaknesses.

For example, I’m not really motivated by accumulating wealth. But in order to do the things that do fulfill me, I need to make money. My depression twists that into a self-image of me being a sell out, trying to make a buck instead of creating to make the world a better place.

“If you really wanted to help people, you wouldn’t try to make money while doing it. You’re just pretending to care about others so you can trick them into giving you what little money they have,” my depression tells me.

And?

And so, when I’m under the weight of depression, I don’t create. Because it feels icky. And those starfish who might benefit from my tiny efforts dry up in the sun. It’s terrible. And I know it. That’s the most horrible part — I KNOW the truth. I just can’t seem to believe it. Because depression lives in my brain. It’s part of me. And sometimes I don’t know how to turn it off.

I’m not writing this because I have a wonderful solution, or a simple series of steps to get past the depression. I’m writing because one of the few things I know to be true is that depression withers in the light. And so when I talk about it, and point out its lies, it gets a little bit weaker. Hopefully me exposing mine might scare yours a bit too. Because the other thing I know is that it’s easier to battle our demons when we’re not alone. And if you’re reading this, or hearing this — you’re not alone. And neither am I.

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An Open Letter to the Green Brothers https://brainofshawn.com/2022/06/09/an-open-letter-to-the-green-brothers/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/06/09/an-open-letter-to-the-green-brothers/#respond Thu, 09 Jun 2022 15:49:01 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2611 I recently read advice about writing letters to famous people. I think it was in the Steal Like an Artist Trilogy by Austin Kleon, which is a wonderful set of books. (I’ve listened to the audio version several times) This is not a letter to him, however. The point was that you can write letters ... Read more

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I recently read advice about writing letters to famous people. I think it was in the Steal Like an Artist Trilogy by Austin Kleon, which is a wonderful set of books. (I’ve listened to the audio version several times) This is not a letter to him, however. The point was that you can write letters to famous people, but it’s not fair to expect a reply, because their fame makes it very difficult to read all the letters they receive, much less reply. Fred Rogers was an exception to that rule, and sadly I never thought to write him in my youth. I regret that often, because since he did reply to all the letters he received, I could have a personal letter from Mister Rogers hanging on my wall right next to the poster of him which you can see in my online videos. But I digress.

This is a letter to John and Hank Green. Or Hank and John Green. I have no idea if there’s a rivalry about whose name goes first.

Dear Green Brothers,

I’m not actually a long time fan. That’s not a poor reflection on you, it just felt like something I should get out of the way, because a fan letter sort of assumes fandom. And while I appreciate you both, I still have no idea what most of the inside jokes you reference mean. (Things like “pizza-mas” and “nerdfight-stuff” mean little to me) But due to unfortunate circumstances, I’ve had the fortune to watch many, many, MANY of your vlogbrothers videos. So many, in fact, that I felt compelled to write this letter. Because while you had no idea that I watched hours and hours of you both, around day 4 it started feeling creepy. So this is me, waving my hand in the air and acknowledging the weirdness, and explaining that I’m currently on day 17 of a pernicious Covid infection that just won’t go away. And so I’ve watch a LOT of YouTube. And totally getting my money’s worth from that YouTube Premium subscription.

John, I first saw you when someone passed along a link to your video about Mister Rogers. Hank, I didn’t know John had a brother, and so the first time someone mentioned you in conversation (my daughter I believe, because her teacher played CrashCourse videos in class) I assured her that no, it was “John” not “Hank”. A quick googling ensued, and it turns out that you too are a real human, and thus was born my understanding that there are TWO brothers Green, each awesome in their own way. (See? I kinda warned you I wasn’t a very good fan. No pizza for me. If that’s a pizza-mas thing. Again, I don’t really know)

Still, even with my total lack of fan juice, and a mere inkling of the Green Brothers Mythos, I felt compelled to write you. Yes, yes, partially because I felt creepy devoting my Covid isolation binging your channel. But honestly, that was partially YouTube’s fault. As I blankly stared at my phone, the YouTube algorithm kept feeding me vlogbrother videos. (Very much not in any sort of order, which was odd, but also somehow still worked).

Wow, I really need to get over myself. The focus on me feeling creepy is starting to get creepy itself.

I’m writing for probably the same reason many people write to you. You’re both very relatable, and present yourselves as quite genuine. It’s possible you’re just really good actors, and the “regular old nerd” persona is just an act, but that seems unlikely. It’s also intimidatingly impressive how professionally successful you’ve both become. I’m pretty sure you’re both younger than me (I’ll turn 47 next month), and your accomplishments are not only admirable — but downright world-changing. And while you both seem humble about the multitude of things you do, the ripple effects of just being you are probably not always easy to see.

My tiny YouTube channel where I create Linux training to help people find a fulfilling career is just that, tiny. And my video style has always been simplistic. But it’s not like your vlogbrothers videos are exactly high production quality, and yet they continue to resonate with people. You give away the vast majority of your creations, and a huge percentage of the money you bring in, and yet manage to live indoors and regularly eat warm meals. And while we obviously don’t know each other, you’ve become the pair of humans I can regularly point to (mentally, I promise I’m not really stalking you) and say, “See? There’s a way to be the sort of person I want to be, while still being able to afford food!”

So thank you. Not for anything in particular that you’ve done, but just for doing the things “out loud” so people like me can see it work. While it’s unlikely my influence will spread quite as far as yours, I appreciate that you’ve blazed the trail a bit for kindness and generosity being a road to success. Because whatever the second half of my life looks like, this tweet remains true.

Hank – I’ll see you on Friday. And John, Tuesday. 🙂

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Significance https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/20/significance/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/20/significance/#respond Fri, 20 May 2022 22:24:14 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2596

Last night I had the opportunity to speak for Linux Dominicana, which is the Linux Users Group in the Dominican Republic. I was approached several months ago by a man who has since become a good friend, asking if I would give a webinar-based talk. As most people reading this know, I’m currently trying to ... Read more

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Last night I had the opportunity to speak for Linux Dominicana, which is the Linux Users Group in the Dominican Republic. I was approached several months ago by a man who has since become a good friend, asking if I would give a webinar-based talk. As most people reading this know, I’m currently trying to produce more and more content, and hopefully reach more and more people with it. So even though I had concerns over cultural errors I might make, I agreed to do the talk.

Spoiler: I’m very glad I did.

My whole personal “brand” thing about being kind, assuming the best in others, admitting when I’m wrong, etc., is not so much a “brand” as genuinely who I want to be as a human. And so in the months leading up to the talk, a bunch of the leaders joined me in a group chat so I could ask them an annoying amount of questions. I was not worried about embarrassing myself (clearly, based on most of my public interactions, I have no problem looking silly). But I was very concerned that I would make an offensive comment, or make an assumption out of ignorance that would hurt the feelings those attending. I gave my rough talk outline (it was about Linux as a vehicle to a career), and I asked awkward questions about job opportunities, difficulties with language barriers, salary inequalities, and how things “work” in the Dominican Republic.

This group of folks were so patient, and so kind, my gratitude doesn’t seem like enough payment for all the education they provided me. After a couple months of trying to learn Spanish, it was clear I wouldn’t be anywhere close to capable of conversation in their native language, and still they were nothing but patient with my litany of questions. Honestly, I was probably rather annoying. And even though I learned a lot about Dominican people, and even about Latin America in general — the upcoming talk was more distressing than pretty much any other talk I’ve given. (OK, the Ohio LinuxFest keynote address where I lost my entire presentation the night before was pretty stressful, but this was a different sort of stress.)

See… I wasn’t sure I’d be relatable. Don’t get me wrong, human stories are about humans, and in general we can empathize if we try. But would my life experiences translate (literally and figuratively) to another culture? I normally weave sarcasm and self deprecation into my talks, but sarcasm is often hard to pick up in your native language, so my standard go-to would probably fall flat. Plus, my talk wasn’t really about anything technical. It was a story about how I found my passion, and how those passions helped me in my own career. It was a very “soft” talk for a group of hardened IT professionals.

How did it go? I think the talk went fine. (That link will start the talk when it switches to English) It wasn’t earth-shattering. It was a story-based look at my career, with a few pointers for finding passion of your own. And an awkward section about the unfair importance of speaking English. Again, it wasn’t a bad talk. But it wasn’t amazing by any stretch of the definition.

But it was significant.

What I didn’t mention earlier is that this was the first time they’ve had one of their presentations in English. I was even one of the first (maybe the actual first) presenter without a tie to the Dominican Republic at all. Heck, I’m so white I’m almost clear! They did this on purpose, but I didn’t realize it was that out of the ordinary until I was chatting with the group of leaders the day before the talk. Whether or not my talk went well, they assured me it was ground-breaking. Assuming the attendees enjoyed the talk, it probably means they will have future speakers from other places with different views and different insights. And I got to be the first person to open that door. I’m still so very humbled.

I hope my mediocre talk, where I tried to speak more slowly than normal (I talk fast when I get excited) was enough to tear down a few cultural walls. The kindness of commenters, saying things in English so I could understand it, was really quite touching. This group of Dominicans will always have a special place in my heart. And once winter sets in, I might find out if their offers of helping me get the most out of a trip to the DR were genuine. And to be honest, I already know they were. Because along with being the first English-only speaker to their group, I also made a pretty great group of friends. And that. That is how we change the world.

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Assuming the Best https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/09/assuming-the-best/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/09/assuming-the-best/#respond Mon, 09 May 2022 12:34:49 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2589

I was scrolling through social media the other day, and ran across this photo. I laughed out loud, because a bottle of cleaning spray decorated like this is the most Yaya thing I could imagine. I mean, these things are usually “decorated” with a Sharpie marker declaring what sort of cleaner is inside the bottle. ... Read more

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This bottle is SO Yaya…

I was scrolling through social media the other day, and ran across this photo. I laughed out loud, because a bottle of cleaning spray decorated like this is the most Yaya thing I could imagine. I mean, these things are usually “decorated” with a Sharpie marker declaring what sort of cleaner is inside the bottle. Or maybe a piece of masking tape declaring the owner’s name. But not this bottle. This looks like a centerpiece for the head table at a fancy dinner or something. It’s SO Yaya. But I should step back a bit.

Yaya (the name she chose to use in America), or Tipsithong Keawlaor, (whose last name I butchered while announcing at basketball games, and still get horribly wrong) is a young lady from Thailand who was an exchange student at the school where my wife teaches. She’s here in the US again, and based on her post, she’s working on the cleaning crew at a hotel or some such thing. She doesn’t normally post about cleaning supplies, and if you see her on social media, or honestly in real life, she appears to be the most vapid, selfie-crazed young woman you could imagine. She lives her life very much out loud, and between duck-lip poses and over-romantic hashtags — she really appears to be an extra superficial example of everything wrong with the Internet.

But she’s not.

Yaya does certainly enjoy attention. But she doesn’t seek attention at the expense of others. She might appear to be “full of herself”, but that too is an assumption which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Yaya is an incredibly kind-hearted young woman, who doesn’t shy away from helping others, even when there’s no glory in it for her. She enjoys the limelight, but I’ve literally seen her chopping lime leaves in the kitchen while helping cook food for a fundraiser. She will work hard to help others, even when it’s not required, even when she’s unseen — but will also happily draw all the attention in a room for no other reason than to be the center of attention. She’s truly an enigma.

OK, So What is She Hiding?

Does Yaya draw attention to herself in order to distract from insecurities she’s trying to hide? I have no idea. I know that I do that (and so Blue, in my comic, does as well).

But more importantly, Yaya doesn’t prop herself up by pushing others down. And I think it’s vital to make that distinction. She might very well struggle with inner demons, self doubt, insecurities, and a myriad of other emotional difficulties. Her over-the-top photos might be a way to hide from herself.

And maybe not.

My point is this: We often hear that comparing our lives to what we see our friends posting on social media is unhealthy, because people generally only post the good things. And that is very good advice. Our lives are more than a highlight reel, and sometimes those with incredible highs are also struggling with incredible lows. Unfortunately, we often deal with that reality in a very unhealthy way.

We Do The Thing Ourselves

Remember when I said that Yaya doesn’t prop herself up by pushing others down? It was literally 2 paragraphs ago. The thing is, when we try to accept that social media is often a highlight reel of the best a person experiences, we equate that to being shallow. We tell ourselves that of course they’re faking, and they’re really miserable, just vying for attention. Heck, we go so far as to pity them for needing the attention of others. We judge them for being happy, because we’re secretly jealous that we’re not.

So here’s my takeaway. You’re welcome to join me, or to just find me naive. I strive to assume the best in people. If someone shares a blessing in their life, and it doesn’t appear to be at the expense of someone else? I’m going to try my very best to be genuinely happy for them. If someone appears to be shallow, I’m going to assume they’re just not sharing the depth of who they are online. And if someone chooses to never share the difficulties they certainly face, I’m going to hope those difficulties pale in comparison to the joy they do share. Because honestly, someone else being happy does not make me less so. And if someone I care enough to follow on social media has good things happen to them? Knowing about it actually makes me pretty happy too.

Yaya, I hope you’re as happy as you portray on social media. Because you’re a wonderful human being, and you deserve all the joy life has to offer. And living life to the fullest is such a Yaya thing to do…

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Truth Isn’t Always True https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/05/truth-isnt-always-true/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/05/truth-isnt-always-true/#comments Thu, 05 May 2022 13:56:08 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2574

Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a bible camp in southern Michigan. It wasn’t my first time speaking there, and I’d been a youth group leader at our local church for years, so my talk wasn’t vetted before I was allowed to speak to a couple hundred teenagers. And no, I didn’t ... Read more

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Several years ago, I was asked to speak at a bible camp in southern Michigan. It wasn’t my first time speaking there, and I’d been a youth group leader at our local church for years, so my talk wasn’t vetted before I was allowed to speak to a couple hundred teenagers. And no, I didn’t actually do or say anything that was inappropriate – but my talk affected me far more than any of the teenagers who heard it. Because I inadvertently deceived them. All of them.

If you’ve been given the opportunity to speak to groups of people, you probably know that using stories is one of the best ways to engage an audience. Stories reveal our humanness, and bridge gaps in our experiences. Even if you haven’t experienced the same things I’ve experienced, when I tell a story, you get to join me in my joy and pain and ultimately in my life. For the brief moment when I tell you a story, you become me, you walk my path, and my experiences become a part of who you are too. Really, stories are amazing.

Fictional stories can do this too. They really can. Just like you can live my experiences if I tell you my stories, we can all live experiences told in fiction, and better understand the human condition in scenarios that never actually happened! Heck, Jesus himself did this with parables. There was no actual woman who lost a coin and then partied when she found it. It was fiction. The important part though, is that people understood Jesus was telling a fictionalized story. He didn’t say, “My Mom Mary lost a coin once, and oooh boy did we have to search for it…”

The Three-armed Sweater

So back to Bair Lake (the camp I where I was speaking). I honestly don’t remember the particular lesson I was teaching, but based on context, I’m guessing it was a lesson about grace and kindness. And as a young(ish) youth group leader, and a speaker known for being fun and animated, I decided to tell a story about a funny situation regarding a Christmas gift. I was a pretty crafty writer and storyteller at the time, so this story was almost certainly funny and engaging, while driving home whatever point I was tasked to teach. And heck, I was using a parable, just like Jesus! The talk was bound to be legendary in the annals of Bair Lake history. Sadly, I made a fatal mistake.

My “parable” was about a sweater I received one Christmas from my beloved aunt. My aunt (whose fictional name is lost to me now) was in mental decline, but spent a large portion of her time knitting sweaters for all her nieces and nephews, so she’d have Christmas gifts for all of them. As her mental acuity waned, the sizing and consistency of sweaters declined as well. One Christmas, the sweater I received from this beloved aunt had a third arm. I don’t remember the details, but I’m sure the fictional me was gracious, and appreciated the time and thoughtfulness knitted into the garment which I’d never be able to wear. Heck, there was probably even a situation where I had to wear the sweater, and somehow honor the aunt while also protecting her from ridicule. But it’s not the story I remember about that summer. It’s the effect it had on the teenagers.

See, it worked. I’d managed to teach my lesson, and pull their heartstrings, and even offer them a glimpse at the joy which only comes from serving others. They learned to be gracious, and kind, and in turn they were kind and gracious to me. They asked me about my aunt. They wondered if I had pictures of the sweater, not to mock, but so they could share in the story even more. One of the other leaders asked if they could share my story with their own youth group back home, because it resonated with the group of campers so well.

But it was all a lie, and I was the only one who knew it.

Fiction Can Teach Truth, But a Lie is a Lie

I didn’t set out to deceive anyone. Truly. But like I said, I was a fairly good storyteller, and the story of my aunt was compelling. It honestly never occurred to me that someone would think the story was a real situation from my life. I crafted it like a parable, or so I thought, and just like there was no actual prodigal son who slept with swine, there was no Aunt (Gertrude? I honestly don’t remember) who knitted me a three-armed sweater. But I told the story as if it were true. So people believed me.

It’s possible the story of my aunt is still being told by people at that bible camp who were particularly moved. And for them, it’s a story that works. For them it’s not a lie, it’s a story. It’s a story they once heard, and its basis in fact is no longer what matters. But for me, it made for a terrible week of camp. Because every time someone came to me and asked about my aunt, I had to tell them that I didn’t really have an aunt who made sweaters, it was just a story I made up to illustrate a point. And they were crestfallen. A story that gave them hope and clarity, helping them to understand grace and kindness instantly turned into them feeling duped and betrayed. All because I didn’t frame the story correctly.

Good Stories Can Be Fictional, but They Can’t Be Lies

That experience still haunts me. I’d like to think it made me a better person, but the cost was painful. Stories are what bind us together as humans, and with good intent, I broke whatever trust those campers had in me. Rather than learning the lesson I intended, those who found out it was made up learned I was a scam artist. I’d fooled them with my storytelling skills, and they felt dumb for believing me.

Could there have been a follow-up lesson on forgiveness? You bet. Heck, it probably would have been a pretty great talk about consequences from unintentional wrongdoing. The speaker could use my situation as a way to explain how forgiving someone benefits you as much as the person you’re forgiving. But it’s not a lesson I could teach, because for that group, I was the guy who lied about the sweater.

Stories are powerful. Fictional stories can be just as powerful as real stories. But even fictional stories have to be honest. Because while truth doesn’t have to be true, it does need to be honest.

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Just Do the Next Thing https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/01/just-do-the-next-thing/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/05/01/just-do-the-next-thing/#respond Sun, 01 May 2022 20:08:45 +0000 https://brainofshawn.com/?p=2564

I often think about Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall. If you aren’t familiar with the married comedy duo, it’s not surprising. They were the act who followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. How could you possibly follow that?!? Thankfully, Justin Bieber didn’t recently make Linux training videos that I have ... Read more

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I often think about Charlie Brill and Mitzi McCall. If you aren’t familiar with the married comedy duo, it’s not surprising. They were the act who followed the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. How could you possibly follow that?!? Thankfully, Justin Bieber didn’t recently make Linux training videos that I have to follow. But the thing is, this past week has been a surprisingly good week with regard to the things I’m creating being appreciated by other humans. (And maybe robots, I’m ok with that. Meep morp, y’all. How ’bout those electrons, am I right?)

The problem is, one success feels like setting the bar for the next thing. And a big success makes for a really high bar.

After this blog was shared by a super popular friend of mine on Twitter (the same friend who often shares my comic… he’s basically my ex-naval fairy godmother), and then one of my youtube videos was showcased in a Hackaday article by another friend, the traffic and popularity of my stuff has stepped up a bit. No, I’m not an influencer, or a YouTube celebrity, or parking a Tesla in my garage… (or, you know, having a garage) — but I crossed the monetization threshold on YouTube (the process of which apparently takes about a month, and then I could make DOZENS of cents a day!) I was sent a tech product to review without me asking or buying it, and there are actual conversations happening in the comment sections of my stuff.

OMG, I’m Too Good Looking, and My Wallet is Too Fat…

I know, I know. Complaining about a modicum of success is pretty douchey. I mean, isn’t being successful exactly what I’m intending to do with all this writing and newslettering and podcasting and videoing and cartooning and… everything? And Shawn, if you can’t handle a video getting 1000 views without feeling overwhelmed, you’d better hope you never actually make it big.

And yeah, I get all that. And I do hope the success continues. Heck, my lofty aspirations include the need and ability to actually hire people to join me in my endeavors. The problem I’m mulling over now is that I find it difficult to do the next thing when the last thing was deemed “worthy and good” by the masses. I think as humans (or robots, still love you guys) we tend to look at a very narrow slice of time. Heck, we practice “living in the present” as a way to stay healthy in mind and body. But the road to success is long. For some of us, very long. And while intellectually I understand a video that gets 10,000 views isn’t 100 times better than a video that gets 100 views, it sure feels that way. Let me get very specific. I’ll use my YouTube channel as the example, because this week has some prime examples of what I’m talking about.

The Hackaday Debacle of Awesomeness

One of the many things I do, is to occasionally co-host on FLOSS Weekly over at TWiT.tv. One of the OTHER occasional co-hosts is Jonathan Bennett. We don’t know each other in meat-space, but I consider him a friend, and if we were at a tech conference, we’d totally hang out and be nerdy. Anyway, he’s a writer at Hackaday.com — and last week he included my SSH Tunnels video in an article he wrote. It sent a flood of users to my tiny YouTube channel, and quickly elevated that video to like 7,000 views in the first week. Most of my videos get about 100 views in that timeframe. It also brought in lots of new eyeballs, who subscribed to my channel, which increased the views on my other videos, and there was a snowball effect that gave my tiny channel a boost.

Again, my channel is small. We’re not talking fame and fortune, we’re talking a cool growth acceleration. Like I mentioned above, it even bumped me over the monetization threshold, so that approval process started.

But HERE is the crux of the situation. My brain tells me that SSH Tunnelling video must have been the cream of my video crop. THAT VIDEO is what will breed more success. Whatever I did there is what I need to do every time, and improve on. Because for some reason, my brain says, “This is a video of a creator that has 3,000 subscribers. If you want to increase to 5,000 subscribers, you clearly need a video that’s about twice as good.”

Now I KNOW that’s not how it actually works. Heck, even my observation of older videos getting more views proves that it’s not a single video that raises the bar of adequacy. But as I often point out, brains are not logical. They’re emotional, fickle, jiggly think-meats which assume the worst and never appreciate the best. And so, I didn’t make another video that whole week. The week where I was getting more and more people interested in my channel and my content. I was crippled with fear that I’d release a video that wasn’t better than the SSH Tunnel video. And people would know that the apparent “star quality content” was a fluke.

Brains suck. (I actually accidentally typed “Brians suck”, and autocorrect was just going to let me insult innocent Brians everywhere. C’mon robots, I thought we were friends?!?)

The week went by, and the popularity boom waned. I still garnered quite a few new subscribers, which was incredible, but instead of riding that incoming wave, I floundered and released no new content. On Friday, I felt so terrible about not releasing anything, that I threw together a video on Linux Certifications, and posted it. I figured it would flop, but at least I was trying. (That video is honestly doing really well, which is weird, because it hasn’t been boosted by anything external. So who knows.)

So What Have You Learned, Shawn?

Honestly? I have no idea. Here’s the thing though — it’s pretty common with anyone who gets a bump of success, that they struggle with their next endeavor. One-hit wonders, authors who write a successful book, middle-aged men who get a compliment on how their hair looks… we all flounder with how to meet or exceed whatever we did that was deemed “good”.

The only advice I really have is that maybe we shouldn’t try to outdo ourselves. Just like it’s unhealthy to compare our success to other people, comparing ourselves to the most successful thing we’ve done is just silly. I’m just as good as that guy who made the SSH Tunnel video, because I’m that guy. I wasn’t trying to specifically make a stand-out creation, I was just doing what I love. Greatness isn’t a thing we do, it’s the way we do the things we do. Trying hard to be a more perfect self seems silly. We’re already exactly ourselves.

So just do the next thing. And in the words of Paul McCartney, Let it Be.

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Doing One Thing Well, or Not https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/28/doing-one-thing-well-or-not/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/28/doing-one-thing-well-or-not/#respond Thu, 28 Apr 2022 16:11:36 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2554

When I started this “be a professional creator full time” adventure at the start of 2022, I got lots of advice. And as a quick recap for those who don’t know about my “Big Year” (sans birds), which is honestly most of you, because I didn’t really shout about it from the mountain tops, here’s ... Read more

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When I started this “be a professional creator full time” adventure at the start of 2022, I got lots of advice. And as a quick recap for those who don’t know about my “Big Year” (sans birds), which is honestly most of you, because I didn’t really shout about it from the mountain tops, here’s the deal:

For the past decade plus, I’ve been a trainer for CBT Nuggets. Many of my videos are still in their catalog, and most people would have no idea I’m not working there anymore. I’m currently a full time sysadmin managing a bunch of Linux systems in various datacenters around the western US. But a couple things made me want to do more than just my DayJob.

  • The pandemic proved that jobs are not a sure thing. So many folks were laid off, or lost their jobs entirely, it was a scary wakeup call. A single income stream, even a really good stream, is scary if it might disappear.
  • I really really miss making training videos.
  • I really really miss writing for Linux Journal.
  • My kids are grown now, so I have a little more time on my hands.
  • My kids are grown now, and they’re currently trying to survive in an economy where surviving, much less thriving, is difficult. I want to set an example on how to diversify income.

Anyway, for those reasons and probably more, I decided to go “all in” for the entire 2022 calendar year. I still have a DayJob, so this means lots of after-work work. But again, it’s a good time in my life for that sort of thing. I’m not missing anyone’s basketball games, etc. As of right now, I’m about a third of the way through the year, and I’ve learned a few things.

There’s no Right Way, but Lots of Wrong Ways

My biggest focus thus far has been with YouTube. Yes, a 46 year old man becoming a “YouTuber” seems like a sad sort of midlife crisis, but I actually have a lot of experience making videos. And I’m a bit of a camera whore (I really like being on camera/mic). So YouTube actually makes a lot of sense. But oh my goodness are there nuances with the platform. For example:

You Must be Genuine

I think I do OK with this one. I’m not good at being fake. But… I’m a fairly weird dude, so maybe I should strive to be genuinely Ryan Reynolds… but Ryan Reynolds already does that, so y’all are stuck with me. Seriously though, I think people assume that unless they’re super charismatic, they’re too boring. That’s honestly just not the case. I’m a pretty boring guy. But when I’m passionate or excited about something, that’s when I light up. And everyone is like that about something. I tend to get excited about a LOT of things (more on that later), but the common adage to, “write what you know” works for YouTube as well. When you’re excited about something, that passion is contagious.

You Must be Unique

This is really a carryover from the previous point. If you’re genuine, you’re unique. Because no one else is like you. When I started taking YouTube seriously, it was tempting to emulate other successful people on the platform. There is some value to seeing what works and doesn’t work but it’s important to only emulate what they do, and not who they are. It’s hard to be genuine or unique if you’re trying to be just like someone else.

Those two “rules” are the most important, at least I think so. Look, I’m not a professional at YouTube, and this isn’t an article on how to be a YouTuber, but I think without following those two ideals, it’s impossible to be happy as a content creator. The next points are important to be a financially successful YouTuber though. And I like them much less. 🙂

You Must be Specific

This is the whole idea of “niching down” on a subject. The narrower you focus your content, the more people you draw in. This seems backward, because a broader array of topics would capture the interests of more people. You know, a bigger net catches more fish. But since there are an almost infinite number of YouTube channels, people tend to gravitate toward the ones where every video hits their sweet spot. If you branch out, the number of people your particular eclectic tastes match will dwindle quickly.

For example, a few of my passions are Linux, A/V equipment, Birdwatching, Renewable Energy, and Kool-Aid. Any one of those subjects might resonate with people. But if I made a YouTube channel with all those topics? Very few people would subscribe, because while they might like one or two of those subjects, they’d get annoyed by videos popping up in their feed on the less desirable topics. So, they look for a channel that has videos on their specific likes, and subscribe to multiple channels. So a person with my particular tastes would subscribe to a Linux channel, a birdwatching channel, a few A/V review channels, and an 80’s retro beverage channel.

That’s difficult for me. Because while I intellectually understand why having a specific niche is vital for YouTube success, it feels very limiting. And honestly, I get bored. Even if it’s one of my passions, if I don’t feed the other beasts in my head, they get restless. And that is sorta where the point of this whole post is going. Because the last “rule” of YouTube is…

You Must be Consistent

Oddly enough, posting videos every day isn’t 7 times better than posting once a week. Sure, you get marginally more views, but more importantly than number of videos you produce is the consistency with which you produce them. But honestly, even this is extremely flexible.

The consistency you MUST strive for is having consistently good content. Releasing regularly is also good, but not as important as having consistently good quality videos. And look, what “good quality” means is very much up for debate and evolution. For example, most people agree that having music in videos keeps people watching. But… I generally don’t, because it feels contrived for my style. I just talk into a camera, demo stuff, and try to teach complicated topics in a way that makes them easy to understand. A soundtrack seems to detract from that, so at least for now, I don’t add music.

Bonus Must: Audio

This isn’t YouTube specific, but just a tip for anyone making video. People will look past questionable video quality (to a point), but audio quality is king. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a microphone first.

So What’s My Point?

I started the year making lots of videos in pretty short order. That was partly due to me really missing the training process. But also, I wanted to have a backlog of videos in place that new viewers could “binge” and get a taste for my style. So I worked hard to get a full “Linux Essentials” course created, making multiple videos a week, and publishing them in rapid succession. But that came at a cost.

At a mere 2 months in, I started to feel some burnout. This is not because I don’t enjoy teaching, or because videos aren’t interesting. It’s because some of those YouTube rules above are really oppressive. I understand my YouTube channel needs to be mostly Linux focused. But as a person, *I* can’t be all Linux focused all the time. So while the idea of doing one thing and doing it well is good advice, when it comes to creativity, it doesn’t always work. My inability to be disingenuous works against me here. If I’m genuinely miserable doing one thing, that one thing I’m doing will be a miserable version of the thing.

I Need More Irons, and More Fire

Toward the beginning of my “Big Year”, I tried to follow the standard advice of not having too many irons in the fire. If I do lots of things, it spreads my time and talent thin, so everything will be mediocre at best. And even reading that last sentence, it makes sense. But human meat sacks don’t always follow logical rules. I’m starting to discover that if I don’t put lots of irons in lots of fires, my one big fire will burn out. I know that is stretching the metaphor hard, but basically, I can’t focus all my energy on one thing or that thing suffers.

So as I enter the second trimester of the year, I’ve decided that I need to do more things. Even if I do those things a little less regularly, the things should end up being better in general. This rekindling of my blog is a prime example. I miss writing regularly, and the best way to scratch that itch is to write. Where better to write than in my own personal blog, where the only rules are ones I make up? I’m doing other things too, and will probably write about them here eventually, but off the top of my head:

  • Reading this blog as a “blogcast”, which is a word I made up. I think. It’s like a podcast, but is just me reading these words out loud.
  • Reviewing things on my review site.
  • Adding a video aspect to those reviews, probably on a new YouTube channel (not yet created).
  • Video blogging on a secondary YouTube channel (INSIDE The Brain of Shawn)
  • Speaking at events (virtually for now)
  • Drawing my comic
  • Learning Spanish
  • Constructing a micro datacenter at my farm
  • Trying to go outside more

My point is, rules are important, but they should always be examined and revised. Plus, the definition of success varies for the individual. I hope this “Big Year” of mine proves to be the start in a life long pursuit of passions and revenue streams. But if at the end of 2022 I discover that I really don’t like the whole “be a creator” thing? That’s valuable too. I’d rather be absolutely certain I don’t like something, than forever wonder what could have been.

Learn everything. Do what you love. And most importantly, be kind.

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Jelly is Lonely https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/20/jelly-is-lonely/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/20/jelly-is-lonely/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2022 18:54:56 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2544 And of course I mean jelly people are lonely. Jealous people, that is. Actual jelly people are never lonely because they’re sweet and sticky, and people either want to lick them, or are stuck to them. And that’s weird, so I’m gonna stop. Sometimes it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone. Particularly when they’re ... Read more

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If you prefer to subscribe to a podcast of my blog posts, you can do that too, right HERE.

And of course I mean jelly people are lonely. Jealous people, that is. Actual jelly people are never lonely because they’re sweet and sticky, and people either want to lick them, or are stuck to them. And that’s weird, so I’m gonna stop.

Sometimes it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone. Particularly when they’re really good at something that you are super bad at. For example, I am not jealous of:

  • Olympic athletes
  • Basketball players (Olympic or otherwise)
  • Professional cake decorators
  • People with exotic taxidermy collections
  • Cave divers
  • Antique furniture collectors

Ok, it’s beginning to occur to me that it’s easy to avoid being jealous of someone who is good at something you don’t want to do, regardless of skill level. But I still argue it’s easier to resist jealousy when someone else is really good at something I’m bad at doing. Here are some more examples, these I’m maybe envious of, not not really jealous:

  • People who can draw
    • (Yes, I see the irony and/or hypocrisy because I literally draw a web comic, but it doesn’t mean I can actually draw — just that I’m unwilling to let my lack of skill stop me…)
  • Really good photographers
  • People who understand how semicolons work
  • Physically attractive folks
  • Singers who can melt your soul with their voices. (I’m looking at you, every member of my immediate family)

And then there’s jealousy of possessions, which isn’t really about the person who has the stuff, but more about your own lack of stuff. Maybe this is covetousness? I think that’s just another flavor of jealousy though, so it counts even if it’s a bit different. And we don’t really need a whole list, because it’s usually:

  • People with money
  • The things people with money have and do

And I really can’t help with that last list, because wanting more and more and more is a much deeper issue, and I think it’s rarely solved by actually attaining those things. Although, having more money is honestly usually nicer than being poor. So while it might not be the solution to all life’s problems, it’s nice to have central air and a heated garage than to not have those things. (Or so I assume, I have neither) But that middle list of things you wish you could do, but other people are better can get ugly pretty quick.

If you are good at something, or you are trying to do well at something, and someone else is MUCH better than you at it — it’s easy to get bitterly jealous. Especially when the other person is able to accomplish such things with minimal effort. And no, I’m not talking about people who work hard for years and then get accused of being overnight successes when they finally make it big. I mean those people who are like, “Oh wow, I’ve never even tried waterskiing before. Check out this sick flip!” Thankfully those people are rare, and nobody likes them. Nobody likes you Dave…

Take my friend Jim, for instance. Jim and I actually have a lot in common. We’re both old, we’re both grumpy, we’re both incredibly unattractive.

Ok, that went sideways. Lemme try again. Jim and I have quite a bit in common. We’re both writers. We both like taking photos of birds. We both want to support ourselves and our loved ones using our creative abilities.

And Jim posts photos like this. ALL THE FRIGGEN TIME. And he’s able to support himself using various creativity-based revenue streams. And he can grow a real moustache. It would be easy for me to be jealous of what he’s accomplished. Even though I know he’s worked for YEARS to build the skill required to do what he does.

Because jealousy isn’t rational. And it’s not even about the other person. Jealousy is frustration and disappointment in yourself and your situation. And to come back to my original point — jealousy is very lonely. And I use Jim as an example here, because I’m not actually jealous of his accomplishments. I’m honestly super happy for him. But there are people who turn me green on a regular basis.

I’m not going to specifically mention any of them here, because giving light to those demons only makes them stronger. And some folks might tell me, “oh you’re so much better than them, they suck” — or, “you shouldn’t compare yourself to other people”, and those responses aren’t really helpful even if they are true. Friggen Dave. Because jealousy isn’t rational. So what I do, and what I recommend everyone consider their own version of, is to steal from those people.

I should probably elaborate.

How to Steal Like a Winner

The nice thing about other people getting successful before you, is that you can learn from all the bad choices they made along the way. This actually works for both those people you’re jealous of, and those you’re not. For example, if he could do it over again, Jim would probably never befriend that annoying guy from Michigan. *ahem*ME*ahem* Seriously though, there are so many things I’ve learned from Jim’s success. The frustrations of social media platforms, the importance of personal online security (he gets death threats on the regular), how important it is to disregard hateful feedback, etc. Heck even his moustache — he taught me how to blow my nose when I grew my own sad face-caterpillar.

I have several friends who have published books. Some have self-published, some have used traditional publishing, and some have used multiple methods AND multiple publishers. I have very smart and successful friends. But even though I haven’t written a book yet — I already know the pros and cons of each method, and I know what publisher I absolutely wouldn’t use even if they wanted me. No, I won’t tell you the company. But you can still learn from my thievery — before you agree to publish with a company, talk to some authors who have already worked with them.

I’ve been hitting YouTube pretty hard recently, and the nature of YouTube means you can see the progression of successful creators as they build their channels. I know a few personally, but even if you don’t know the individual people, you can see what things work for them and what things don’t. This one has been invaluable for me. Because I’ve learned that I really hate the “narrow niche” required for YouTube success. That doesn’t mean I can’t be successful on YouTube, but it means I have to put energies elsewhere too. This blog, for instance. And my review blog. And various podcasts I contribute to. And secondary YouTube channels. And silly tweets. And web comics. All of those things help me to “niche down” on my main YouTube channel without feeling like I’m stifling myself. I wouldn’t have known any of that if I didn’t watch other successful creators and how they managed to be successful.

We can learn so much from those who are ahead of us. Even if they leapfrogged us getting there. From people I don’t like, I learn what not to do. And from those I strive to emulate, I learn from their successes and their failures. Heck, in many ways it’s better to let other people blaze the trail so it’s easier for us to get where they are going. But even that isn’t the healthiest way, in my opinion, to deal with jealousy.

Just. Enjoy. The. Beauty.

This isn’t as difficult as it sounds. If we can focus on appreciating how well other people do things, we can pretty quickly turn our jealousy into admiration. This even works if the people don’t “deserve it” in your opinion. Thank goodness they got lucky, right? Otherwise they’d be struggling forever. Those photos you wish you could take? Hey, you’re getting to look at them. Photos can be magical, and sure, being able to take them is incredible — but you still get to experience the magic first hand when you look at someone else’s work.

We already do this. Have you ever watched the Olympics? We are SO excited for those athletes who have devoted their lives to excellence. We will never be as good at their craft as they are, but that’s OK, we get to see them be great. That isn’t reserved for olympians. Are you jealous of Miley Cyrus’ voice? Maybe instead focus on how great it is to hear her sing. Do you wish you could dance like… um… I don’t really know any dancers. But if you have a dancing person in mind, isn’t it great to see them dance?

The point is, jealousy is a very strong emotion. But many times it’s easy to flip that strong negative emotion to admiration, which is a strong positive one. And that makes you a better person. One that someone might, you know, admire. 🙂

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I Love You, Uhh… Thank You. https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/19/i-love-you-uhh-thank-you/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/19/i-love-you-uhh-thank-you/#respond Tue, 19 Apr 2022 11:28:37 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2528

It’s a funny trope in sitcoms. One person is in love with another person, and so they confess their love, only to be given a “Thank You” in reply. We cringe. We hurt for the confessor, and we feel bad for the one not in love. We are also impressed by the thanker, because it ... Read more

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It’s a funny trope in sitcoms. One person is in love with another person, and so they confess their love, only to be given a “Thank You” in reply. We cringe. We hurt for the confessor, and we feel bad for the one not in love. We are also impressed by the thanker, because it would have been easier to lie and say they too were in love, letting FutureThem deal with the fallout.

But it’s awkward. That is undeniable.

Thankfully, I found my person over 25 years ago. I love her, she loves me (and I’m really lucky she does, because I can be a LOT, y’all). But if we take that situation down a notch, I suspect there are many more mismatches. ESPECIALLY when introverts like myself are in play. Let me elaborate…

There are probably 5 people who I consider my very best friends. Then maybe a dozen who are way more than acquaintances, and I consider close friends. The next group in my expanding circle of indifference (is it a circle of indifference if the ones I care about the most are in the middle? Maybe it’s my circle of fading “difference”? But “difference” does not feel like the opposite of indifference, so maybe I’m using terrible words here. And because some of my friends read my blogs via translator to their native language, I have NO idea what this will imply because now I’m confused in English. And English is the only language I’m moderately confident with…)

I’ve decided to abandon the notion of an expanding circle, and I’ve decided to abandon that entire paragraph. My new geometric metaphor will be a pyramid. OK, in my head it’s actually a triangle, but since it will be stacks of friends, I’m not sure how they’d stand in a two dimensional stack, but I also don’t have NEARLY enough friends for a pyramid of people. But basically there are five or so people on the tippy top of my FriendAngleMid. Beneath them, are probably a dozen people who are close friends. These people I’m usually very comfortable around. Being with them doesn’t drain me emotionally. (Well, if I were with ALL of them at once, it would be horrible, and I’d be hiding in the bathroom texting my 5 cake-topper friends about how miserable I was at this stupid party I should have never thrown for my cat…)

Anyway. The next layer (we’re doing cake now, please keep up) is larger, and actually sort of fluid (not like we’re changing metaphors again, I mean they aren’t a solid group of people I could list). These are the people I don’t think about on a daily basis, but when I am near them, or interact with them, it’s enjoyable and I’m glad they’re in my life. Honestly, this is a large group. But because my brain is kind of a jerk, I couldn’t possibly name them all, because here’s the thing — when I’m with people in this group, they BECOME part of the dozen or so top-cake-layer friends. It’s weird, but this group of people is really really great. And I enjoy being with them and talking to them at least as much as my top layer friends. In fact, because I’m not with them often, in the moment, they’re pretty much temporary cake toppers. And not “pretend” cake toppers, but actual, bonafide Smurf figurines on top of my friend cake, celebrating our time together.

This is not the direction I thought this blog post was going. (I’m very happy with the cake metaphor though, we’re keeping that. Even though I’m more of an ice cream person. OH, and sprinkles would be perfect for the topper metaphor, except I want way more than 5 sprinkles… So we’re sticking with cake. Maybe Donna can be the ice cream. Because she’s like the ice cream, my favorite part — PLUS sprinkles, which makes ice cream even better. Yes. Donna is the ice cream, and she is COVERED in sprinkles.)

NOTE: This is why when I write professionally, I have an editor. Jill — I’m so sorry this is going to press. And I know you’re not technically my editor anymore, but you’re the only editor I’ve ever had, so when I think of an editor, it’s always you. Don’t get creeped out, I CLEARLY never think of editing. (Except I do, and I miss working with you, and OMG we should totally play on top of the cake metaphor soon.)

So, anyway most of the people I consider my friends are in that huge group of people that most people would call acquaintances. But I don’t consider them that, because I really, truly do love the people in that huge group. And in the moments I get to interact with them, I’m fully engaged, and fully real, and wouldn’t rather be anywhere else in the world. It takes emotional energy to spend time with these people, but it’s energy well spent. It’s like the reason I keep as much energy available as possible, because exhaustion from spending time with people you love is the BEST type of exhaustion.

It’s those people that make me both happy and sad in equal measures. I want them to be in my top cake layer, but I don’t interact with them often enough for me to feel comfortable leaning on them. They don’t know me well enough (very likely my fault) to lean on me when things get difficult. I WOULD totally be there if/when they need me, and I’m pretty sure they would be there for me — but again, I’m so bad at letting my guard down, that most people I consider friends don’t fully know me, and in turn, I don’t fully know them. And maybe that’s just how things work. We can’t have 1000 besties. Yet, to say these people are “less good” friends is just not true. Friendship is weird, and I’m not terribly good at it anyway. So perhaps I don’t really have any friends, and I just have human interactions, sorta. But I’m just gonna stick to my cake metaphor and say that the bottom layers of my friendship cake has a LOT of wonderfully sweet layers.

Oh, acquaintances. For me, these are people I tolerate, and I’m friend-LY with, but they’re the people with which I’d probably talk about the weather. (And not awesome weather conversations, just generic crap) These people are the raisins in our cake. They’re not like finding an eggshell in the batter, but you avoid them if you can.

And I’ll close with what I was going to write about in the first place. For introverts like myself, especially those of us who spend most of our time interacting online — it’s almost certain that my cake-topper friends, and my top-layer friends have no idea where they reside on my friendship cake. And I am very unlikely to be on the cake top of many people, or honestly even in their top layer. And that’s OK. Relationships don’t have be built on equal significance. People have different amounts of energy they can invest, and as long as the friendships work for both parties, it’s usually OK. Sometimes there is pain when we discover we don’t live on each other’s cakes at the same layer, but since everyone’s cake is different, direct comparisons don’t even make sense.

My only request is that you not pretend your raisins are sprinkles. Don’t lead raisins on. Be kind to them, but don’t make empty promises about how much we should “totally get together and make raisin bread soon”. It really hurts to discover you’re a raisin when you thought you were a cake topper.

Now I’m hungry. But not for raisins. They’re gross.

PS: Please don’t tell me where I live on your cake. Plus, out of context, that’s a really weird thing to tell someone. And I won’t tell you where you live on my cake either. But unless you’re a raisin, whenever we interact, you’re playing on top of the cake anyway. 🙂

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Internet Sin Ingles https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/17/internet-sin-ingles/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/17/internet-sin-ingles/#respond Sun, 17 Apr 2022 11:03:53 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2526 I have many legitimate friends whom I’ve never met in person. Some of my very best friends are a group of folks who met online and have remained close for well over a decade. There was a time when that was considered a naive misunderstanding of friendship, but I’m happy to say it’s slowly becoming ... Read more

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I have many legitimate friends whom I’ve never met in person. Some of my very best friends are a group of folks who met online and have remained close for well over a decade. There was a time when that was considered a naive misunderstanding of friendship, but I’m happy to say it’s slowly becoming more and more common. (This is not to imply catfishing is no longer an issue, or that you should blindly trust people online — but rather a simple statement that technology has given us the ability to foster real, lifelong friendships with people we only interact with digitally)

ANYWAY, one of my online friends is Luis. I won’t link to him, because he may not desire random people stalking him online, but nevertheless he’s someone I consider a close friend. Luis lives in Portugal. As I started writing this, I tried to remember how we met. And I honestly can’t remember. Maybe through Linux Journal? It doesn’t really matter, because now we’re just nerdy friends who happen to live on opposite sides of the planet. We often send each other links or thoughts about cultural differences, because we’re both fascinated by such things. And whether we’re sending memes about the metric system (and how silly it is we don’t use it in the States), or having real conversations about difficult political issues, Luis always sees me as a person and not a stereotype. I appreciate that.

Yesterday, Luis sent me to a website that links to a cool interactive map you can drag around to see what countries/cities line up with other countries/cities based on latitude. The site was not in English. Mind you, Luis speaks English fluently, but it’s not his native language, so it makes sense he would visit sites that are not English. He even noted that I should run the site though a translator because it was cool enough to warrant the effort. (And it was, he was right) But here’s the thing — I had no idea how to do that.

I’ve translated words and phrases with Google Translate plenty of times. (Heck, I double-checked the title of this post just to make sure my early elementary level Spanish was correct. And I’m sure it’s slightly different in Portuguese, but I’m struggling with my Spanish on Duolingo, I can’t add another language yet, lol.) But any time I’ve stumbled across a non-English website, my browser popped up a little “Hey white boy, you wanna see this page in English?” button and I could just click and see the page rendered in English. But this page did not trigger my browser to offer me this hand-holding. And I honestly didn’t know what to do.

After a bit of googling, I discovered that I could simply right click anywhere on the page, and there was a “Translate to English” option which instantly made the site readable. And then I could play with the interactive map (which itself was actually on an English website, go figure). But it was another reminder that as a straight white male, living in the US, I’m really playing the game of life on the easiest level. No, that doesn’t mean my demographic can’t have struggles — it just means I don’t ALSO have hurdles of race, gender, language, etc. to manage along with the life situations I find myself in. Heck, translating web pages in order to read them is something I NEVER need to think about. And realizing that’s a privilege is one step toward a friendlier world.

I appreciate you, Luis. Your friendship makes me a better person. 🙂

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Monetization Sucks Beans https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/14/monetization-sucks-beans/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/14/monetization-sucks-beans/#respond Thu, 14 Apr 2022 15:48:40 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2517

There’s a bitter sort of irony that people who enjoy selling things are rarely the people you want to give money, and those folks who deserve your money are cripplingly uncomfortable receiving, much less asking, for it. Mind you, this is a terribly generic take, which (might) be true for the majority of situations, but ... Read more

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There’s a bitter sort of irony that people who enjoy selling things are rarely the people you want to give money, and those folks who deserve your money are cripplingly uncomfortable receiving, much less asking, for it. Mind you, this is a terribly generic take, which (might) be true for the majority of situations, but has so many exceptions it’s bordering on a trope or stereotype. So before you skip to the comments and call me a fool — lemme break down what I mean just a bit.

The sort of predatory salespeople we often (unfairly) associate with the “used car salesman” label, are not the most effective salespeople. The problem is, they’re moderately successful. That moderate success is built on narcissism, deception, selfishness, and a complete lack of empathy. They’ll encourage, and even push you to buy more than you need, and manipulate you to pay as much as they can get you to pay. The worse they screw you over, the better they feel they did — and so they’re self-motivated to be just the worst people ever. There are “crafty” versions of these salespeople, who wear the guise of giving a crap about you, but are really just more subtle about pushing those limits, and at the end of the day are only nice because it might benefit them in the long run. (referrals, repeat purchases, etc)

There are genuinely customer-focused salespeople. And oddly enough, they are the most successful type. The great irony here is that on a per-purchase basis, they are likely to make less profit. Yet, in number of sales, repeat customers, referrals, longevity, and countless other non-monetary metrics, they are far more successful than the smarmy, pushy salesforce. These salespeople are rare, and since the “crafty” salespeople mentioned above often appear to be this way — it’s difficult to find them, especially at first. But my hot take on the nuances of the psychology of sales is not what this post is about. I’m just avoiding the main point, because it’s awkward.

Beholden to NO ONE!!!

Some monetization is easy. Sorta. For example, early on (too early, honestly) in my web-comic-drawing-days, I commissioned a stuffed animal of Spot, one of the characters. I have those plushies for sale, and accepting money for them does not feel icky, because I paid for them. (I actually paid WAY too much for them, because I could only afford a limited run, and as such they cost way too much per unit, and so I sell them at cost plus a few bucks for shipping, and even then they’re way too expensive, but I digress.) I paid for them. I mark them up slightly (or not, see above), and I sell them to you. You have a tangible thing that you paid an amount of money to get.

Monetizing creativity, however, gets complicated and icky really quick. For a vast number of reasons. Let’s look at a few…

1: Creative Direction

Let’s say you decide to support my webcomic with a monthly subscription on Ko-Fi or Patreon. If I have tiers of rewards for patrons, it’s a little easier to get a sense of transactional value from your monthly donation. Maybe you see comics a day early. Maybe you get access to livestreams of me drawing. Maybe you get to see comics where Blue says swear words. Who knows. But with that sort of a system, I’d feel a little better knowing you have a transactional value for your donations. It means I have to adjust my creative endeavors in order to accommodate those things — but it works.

But most “lowest tier” support models are just a “big thank you” for supporting. And honestly, I don’t have tiered rewards set up, so if you support me (I have 1 supporter currently, at $4/month), you get nothing but a warm fuzzy feeling when you see Spot befriend a porcupine. BUT… because you’re giving me money, you might feel a bit of ownership over the comic. And that’s not entirely unfair of you. You’re helping make the comic happen, and shouldn’t you have some say on what does or doesn’t happen? Mostly no, of course, but it sorta *feels* like you should, doesn’t it?

This is far more pronounced with something like YouTube. If you’re supporting me with a YouTube Membership (I’m not eligible for monetization of any sort on YouTube yet, so don’t go try), and you’d like me to make more videos on shell scripting, and fewer videos on Kool-Aid taste tests — you might really feel like your opinion matters. And in that case, it really might matter. I mean, you’re paying me because you like the stuff I create. It’s pretty easy to feel comfortable requesting I make things that you like more often, since you’re literally paying me money. And since I’m an individual creator instead of a faceless corporate entity (like, Netflix for instance) — it’s in my best interest financially to listen to you. So… it gets messy.

2: Selling Out

If a creative person creates for money rather than the art itself, doesn’t that make them a sellout?!? WHAT ABOUT THE ART, MAN? Well… the “starving artist” trope is old and worn out, in my opinion. Plus it’s not even accurate. Have you heard of the Sistine Chapel? That ceiling was painted on commission, paid for by the Pope. Was Michelangelo a sellout? Maybe. Did that mean his art was any less art-sy? I’d venture no. It was probably better than it would have been if he couldn’t afford sandwiches for his lunch breaks. So while taking money in return for art doesn’t really make it less genuine or pure — it sorta feels icky. For some reason, if our motivation is to get paid, it often feels (and appears) like we’re only doing it because we’re getting paid. Which, is true. But is that bad? I mean, it shouldn’t be bad, but it feels like it is. Or it feels like it should be. Or… it’s very confusing, but it’s an issue creative folks have to work through.

Then, as if that whole situation weren’t complex enough, add to it the odd personal struggle many artists have with devaluing themselves and their work. It’s hard to charge a living wage when you feel like what you make isn’t work anything. Again, this disfunction isn’t true of all artists, but it’s really super mega common, and not just due to mental illness or abuse. When a creative person is creating, they’re just doing what they do. It *feels* like something anyone can do, or something that lots of people could do much, much better. (Look at my comic, y’all… if you love it, it’s not due to my amazing art skillz. Or, at least in my head there’s no way it’s because of my art skills)

So either what we do isn’t worth real money, or if we take money, we’re not doing it for the right reasons, or if we do take money we’re just shills trying to make a buck doing something that isn’t real work anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, monetizing creative endeavors is complicated. And often feels icky. And also often, it’s not something the actual creative people are good at doing even if they’re OK with doing it.

3: Being Flaky

Sometimes I can’t create things. There are any number of reasons why. For videos, perhaps I’ve lost my voice. Maybe I have a huge pimple or flushed cheeks that I’m showtoppingly uncomfortable with. At times I just run out of ideas, and need a vacation (of various sorts). The same is true with my comic, my writing, my silly cat photos, and all those other creative endeavors I do but haven’t yet shared with the world. (I’m sorry, and you’re welcome) What happens when I don’t do the thing that you are paying me to do? Will that $4/month subscriber of mine get angry if I don’t make a single web comic for a month? Maybe. And, maybe they’d be justified.

What if I fall into a fit of depression, and I can’t work at all for several weeks? I’d arguably need the monetization more than ever during those times, but it sure seems unfair to ask people to give me money for sleeping in the same underwear 7 days in a row. Heck, a few months ago, I got RSV which turned into bronchitis, and teetered on the edge of pneumonia. I’m a sickly dude, and that sort of thing happens to me. If I’m not able to be “ON” for an extended amount of time, does that mean I’m stealing from folks?

Yes, I realize there are responsible ways to prepare for situations like this. I could have a bunch of pre-drawn comics that are released automatically. I could make videos in advance and do the same. In fact, that would be a very healthy thing for me to do anyway, and I should really do that. But since I still have a full time job (because I haven’t successfully monetized my creative ventures), I can barely keep up with this just-in-time release schedule. So building up a buffer is a lot easier said than done. The flaky bit is just one more aspect of monetization that weighs heavily on me, and likely other creators as well.

No Great Answers

Oh, did you think this was an inspirational story that ended with a, “thus and heretofore we shall solve the problems inherent with funding fine arts…”? Yeah, no. This is just my blog where I think out loud. When I write out my thinky bits, it no longer has to live in my head full time. If you expected me to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything — I’m afraid “42” is the best I can do.

That said, I have discovered some things feel less icky than others, at least for me:

  1. If/when I ever get monetized on YouTube, I will not feel horrible about ad revenue. That’s largely because YouTube ads are the norm, and it doesn’t directly take money out of people’s pockets. (It takes a bit of time out of their day, which is arguably a much more terrible thing to do, but that’s another topic). I also like that YouTube has a “Premium” or “Pro” option so that you can pay a monthly subscription to YouTube and not see ads in videos at all. Creators supposedly still get paid, and users don’t have to watch ads. Once I’m monetized, I’ll be making a video about how the premium plan for YouTube is actually pretty great, and I would cancel Netflix long before I’d cancel my YouTube Premium.
  2. Affiliate marketing is really win-win. This one is weird for me, because it still feels icky. But honestly, it doesn’t cost the user any more money at all, and the creator is supported. I try to make it clear that I use affiliate links when I link to a product, but even then I feel like I’m “tricking” people in to buying stuff so that I get a percentage. And yet, it really isn’t that way. I suspect this is a personal issue I just get to work though. And my new “review” blog is me trying to add some value to affiliate links. We’ll see if that works for me emotionally and financially in the long term.
  3. Books. If (when, darn it!) I write books, I’ll be totally fine with selling them. That’s back to the transactional ideal though. You pay me, you get a book. I plan to write books that are self-published ebooks, maybe self-published print-on-demand books, and traditionally published as well. I have no problem accepting money for any of those methods. But also, writing books is hard. Or so I’m told. I haven’t done it yet. 🙂

Anyway. That’s my brain dump about monetizing creativity. It’s weird, and I don’t have a handle on how to do it properly. Perhaps I never will. But if you’re also struggling with monetizing your passions, and you’d really like to monetize your passions (sometimes, if you don’t have to, it’s a better option to not do so!) — know that you’re not alone.

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Star Trek Me This https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/13/star-trek-me-this/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/13/star-trek-me-this/#respond Wed, 13 Apr 2022 12:19:17 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2514

A while back I posted a poll on Twitter about which Star Trek technology would be the most significant. Usually when I bring the topic up in conversation, people jokingly say the Holodeck, and then say, “But seriously, warp drive is the most significant tech.” I generally argue that the replicator is the most overlooked ... Read more

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A while back I posted a poll on Twitter about which Star Trek technology would be the most significant. Usually when I bring the topic up in conversation, people jokingly say the Holodeck, and then say, “But seriously, warp drive is the most significant tech.” I generally argue that the replicator is the most overlooked tech in Star Trek, because its invention would solve world hunger, put manufacturing centuries ahead, and make scarcity a thing of the past. I was pleasantly surprised to see that on Twitter, most folks think along the same lines.

But, I want to elaborate a bit on the items, because sometimes I have more than 280 characters of thought on a topic. 🙂

Holodeck

The holodeck got little love on Twitter, and I understand. It seems the most frivolous of the items listed. In reality, the Holodeck is the one we’re probably the closest to actually having. It’s basically VR to the Nth degree. There are obvious differences, what with actual physical interactions and all, but VR is like a poor man’s Holodeck, and we can try it out today.

The use cases for an actual Holodeck are pretty incredible though, to be honest. The show generally stresses its usage as a vacation simulation, which would be important on interstellar trips. But the training, learning, physical fitness, and full immersion would make life better in so many ways.

That said, I think we all know, most Holodeck use cases would devolve into sexual deviance pretty quickly. Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad, I’m not here to judge. The takeaway though is that a Holodeck could do more than just entertain us. It could level the playing field for everyone such that privilege of wealth and/or location wouldn’t matter as much.

Transporter

There was some discussion on Twitter about whether the transporter was its own tech, or whether the replicator and the transporter were really the same thing, since the technologies are closely related. But since I was specifically referring to the transporter as a “mover of objects and people”, that’s what I’ll focus on here.

Quite frankly, the transporter tech creeps me out the most. The notion of converting mass into energy and then that energy back into mass seems fine for chairs and pepperoni pizzas, but for a living thing — it’s oogy. This is a trope in the Star Trek universe of course, what if people are “recreated” twice. What if the “pattern degrades” in the buffer. But I’m more concerned about what makes a person a person. When an object (or lifeform) is converted into the stream of energy, their existence is nothing more than a record of what they used to be. If you then rebuild them into that same record, are they the same person? Is there a spark of life that is more than matter/energy? Is there a soul?

Deep stuff, I know. But the transporter has always bothered me in Star Trek. And while I don’t want to get into a big philosophical debate about souls and the meat they may or may not inhabit — if the transporter idea for living things doesn’t creep you out, I’m a little worried about you.

Warp Drive

Arguably the most exciting Trek tech, it’s oddly the one that would probably affect humanity the least. Well, at least initially. With things like hunger, inequality, and scarcity eliminated, Warp Drive would allow for exploration without the sole purpose of exploitation. That would be amazing. But as a “first” tech? Yeah, I’ll pass. I don’t want to solve our energy problems by drilling for oil on a remote planet. That’s just putting the cart before the horse.

Obviously cool tech from a scientific standpoint. And not outside of the realm of “maybe someday something like what it sorta implies” — so I’m not anti-WarpDrive. I’m just not in the, “We need Warp Drive first” camp.

I already talked about the replicator, and why I think that would be the most important and civilization changing tech. But something that didn’t even make my list has gotten me thinking a lot lately…

Universal Translator

This is probably the most practical tech from a, “could we ever actually do it” standpoint. Not with the whiz-bang features of learning and deciphering an unknown language in near real-time, but as a way for people to communicate with each other regardless of their native tongue. Language barriers are more than just inconvenient. When we can’t communicate readily with someone, it changes how we see them. Being self aware enough to realize that our differences are insignificant when compared to our similarities helps — but when we can’t communicate, relationships break down.

When someone doesn’t speak our language fluently, we perceive them as less intelligent (even if we don’t speak THEIR language AT ALL). When we can’t express our intentions to each other clearly, it creates a mental us/them separation that bleeds into every other aspect of our relationship. When we can’t understand each other, we can easily dehumanize each other. And that road leads to the darkest of darkness. If we can’t communicate with people, we can’t get to know them. And if we don’t know people who are unlike us, it limits who WE are as a part of humanity.

There’s a much larger topic about diversity, inclusivity, and expanding our views of “us” — but this was just a post about Star Trek technology. So I’ll save the other stuff for another episode. 🙂

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This Blog Might Get Weird https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/10/this-blog-might-get-weird/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/04/10/this-blog-might-get-weird/#comments Sun, 10 Apr 2022 10:46:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2488

I’m doing all sorts of content creation these days. I’m doing videos, comics, newsletters, reviews (I’m figuring that bit out still… but I wanna keep doing it), podcasts, other podcasts, and I’m still doing silly tweets and cat photos, etc, etc, etc. I want to be a full time content creator someday soon, and so ... Read more

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I’m doing all sorts of content creation these days. I’m doing videos, comics, newsletters, reviews (I’m figuring that bit out still… but I wanna keep doing it), podcasts, other podcasts, and I’m still doing silly tweets and cat photos, etc, etc, etc. I want to be a full time content creator someday soon, and so I’m just doing STUFF. But the thing about content creation, especially if you hope to *make money* doing it, is that it’s often important to “niche down”. And that’s super annoy-balls. I’m not really built to “niche-down”. (As you can tell by the long list of stuff I’m doing recently.)

So I decided this blog will be my free-for-all, anything goes, digital void to scream into. The tagline has always been, “the thinks I think” here on my blog, and dog gonnit (dog gone it? hmm… I’m not sure now) that’s what I’m going to do. So things might get weird. I sometimes think things that aren’t fully refined. I sometimes think through difficult social issues. Often times during that thinking, I’ll change my opinion. My goal is to do some of that here.

I hope to be able to leave the comment section open. Those who know me understand that I’m generally OK with dissenting opinions, and I truly listen to other points of view, sometimes even changing my point of view. In fact, I try really REALLY hard to be open to my own wrongness. If I realize I am/was wrong, and accept that — it means I become a better person. And since I have a LOT of room to be better than I am now, the only way I can get from point A (fairly crappy) to point B (moderately less crappy), it will be by accepting and changing the crappy things about me. So at first, for most posts — comments will be open, and I’m in favor of conversation on my personal, half-formed thoughts.

BUT.

I am a founder and level 73 member of the Cult of Kindness (please don’t use our unfortunate acronym). Anything other than kind interactions which assume the best of other people will be shut down quickly. Yes, there’s a certain irony in assuming the best of others, and shutting things down when others seem to not play by the rules, but at the end of the day, this is my blog. If I shut down conversation, I’ll try to do so kindly, explaining myself, etc. But if you remember from above, I’m still fairly crappy, so I’m sure I’ll mess up my pie-in-the-sky notion of doing things right. I just know that online discussions via social media, comment sections, etc. tend to get super ugly super fast. And that is something up with which I will not put.

But some of my very, VERY best friends were forged in controversial forum posts. One sticks with me. I won’t mention her by name, but I’m sure she’ll know who she is if she reads this. I was a very conservative Christian person at the time, and the conversation was with several atheists/agnostics about abortion and Pro-choice/Pro-life stances. We both left the conversation with the same general viewpoints we started — but each did change our understanding and feelings toward the “other side.” That interaction changed me. It was my first step in a journey of becoming a more empathetic, understanding, and intelligent person. She is now one of my dearest friends, and she’s one of the most wonderful human beings I know.

That’s what conversation can do. So I want to have the comment section here open, because I’d really love for more people to have that sort of experience. But it’s often “team flaming blowtorch” conversing with “team gasoline soaked underbritches” — so if things go sideways, I’ll lock/delete/etc. And like I said, I’m still pretty crappy myself, so I’ll probably screw it up from time to time. Anyway. Welcome to The Brain of Shawn. The thinks I think. 🙂

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Linux is Just a Tool https://brainofshawn.com/2022/02/17/linux-is-just-a-tool/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/02/17/linux-is-just-a-tool/#comments Thu, 17 Feb 2022 20:46:46 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2463 There’s really only one job description: Problem Solver. Sometimes that problem is, “I need to host a website that can scale as demand expands and contracts.” Sometimes the problem is, “People want good coffee but aren’t interested in making it themselves at home.” It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the tools we use ... Read more

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Linux is the tool… not me.

There’s really only one job description: Problem Solver.

Sometimes that problem is, “I need to host a website that can scale as demand expands and contracts.”

Sometimes the problem is, “People want good coffee but aren’t interested in making it themselves at home.”

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the tools we use to solve problems, we can forget that we’re more than expertise in a tool. In the tech world, it’s easy to define ourselves by the tools we’re good at using. I’m a Linux guy. I eat, sleep, breathe Linux. And while it’s sometimes important to stress our proficiency with a particular tool, when that’s all we are, we’re limiting ourselves.

My son in law is a builder. He solves the problem of “people need buildings.” I think he’s pretty good with a hammer. But he doesn’t advertise himself as a hammer guy. See, the thing is, people want a building. Maybe someone good with a hammer is the ideal person to make that building. It seems like a really important skill. But he’s a builder, not a hammer guy.

In IT, Linux is a really great hammer. In fact, I think everyone should be proficient with Linux, because it’s the Swiss Army Knife of the Internet. Whether you want to build a website, create an app, move to the cloud, deploy a database, or mine Bitcoin, Linux will likely be part of the smartest way to implement those things. It’s ubiquitous. It’s powerful. It’s free. But Linux is just a tool, and we need to stop thinking about “Linux jobs” and start thinking about problems we can solve with our shiny Linux hammer.

I’ve had many jobs over the years. I’ve been a school administrator, manager of a university database department (Microsoft SQL!), writer, teacher, bus driver, help desk worker, and system administrator. In every one of those jobs, my Linux skills were invaluable. When I was a bus driver, my IT skills meant I was working for the company’s owner on their computers after work. Because I could solve their computer problems. It’s OK to focus on job opportunities that you can do because of your tools, but don’t go looking for a “hammer job”, look for a job that needs stuff pounded in, and come in fully prepared with your tools.

I know most of this seems like semantics. But it’s more than that. When we let our specialties define who we are and what we can do, we’re not only limiting ourselves, but we’re robbing our potential employers of our true worth. Does a background in Linux help you in a job focused entirely on Microsoft products? Yes! Because you’re uniquely skilled to advise places that Linux and Open Source may or may not benefit an infrastructure.

If my son in law were hired to install a deck onto someone’s home, when the materials arrived, he’d know what to do with all those deck screws. Even though he might be a hammer guy. He knows darn well a hammer isn’t the way to go with a box a deck screws. He’s gonna grab the impact driver and build a glorious deck. Even though he’s a hammer guy.

For me, Linux has been an incredible hammer. I’ve used it in all my jobs, even if that use is to know what not to do. I created a course that follows the Linux Essentials exam objectives from the Linux Professional Institute (LPI). If you take my course, it will prepare you to take the Linux Essentials exam. But… honestly I’m not convinced people should actually take the exam. I’d much rather they watch my course, and use that Linux knowledge to build their own set of tools. The course is free, and it requires no Linux experience or understanding at all.

So please, check out my course, and go look for some nails that need a good pounding.

My Linux Essentials Course is 100% free on YouTube

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From Professional to Square One https://brainofshawn.com/2022/02/04/from-professional-to-square-one/ https://brainofshawn.com/2022/02/04/from-professional-to-square-one/#respond Fri, 04 Feb 2022 19:06:40 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2456 I created professional video content for about 12 years. That doesn’t mean I’m any good at it, but it does mean I’m comfortable with it. This year, 2022, I’ve decided to get back into making video, but with a twist: I’m doing it on YouTube. Certainly over a decade producing hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours ... Read more

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I’m in charge. That’s… terrifying.

I created professional video content for about 12 years. That doesn’t mean I’m any good at it, but it does mean I’m comfortable with it. This year, 2022, I’ve decided to get back into making video, but with a twist: I’m doing it on YouTube.

Certainly over a decade producing hundreds (maybe thousands) of hours of video would mean I’d CRUSH things on YouTube, right? Well… not so much. But also, yes. Sorta. But not really. (I also wrote professionally for a while, this paragraph is not proof of that, lol) There are some things that have been easier for me as I venture into this new platform, and some things that are much, much more difficult. Let’s start with the good things. There are fewer of them.

GOOD THING: Comfort on Camera

I’m pretty comfortable on camera. I’m also pretty comfortable on stage. For someone who is an introvert to a crippling degree, it seems odd that I’m comfortable “in front”, but if you’re an introvert, you might understand. There’s something about being the person in the spotlight that makes the awkward shyness sorta melt away. In a crowd of people, I’m a wreck, but when people are supposed to be looking at me it’s somehow freeing. Or maybe I’m just a weirdo, I dunno. Nonetheless, many YouTubers struggle being on camera. That’s a huge advantage I have.

GOOD THING: Modest Start Already

When 2022 started, I had about 1600 YouTube subscribers. I’m no where close to being “monetized”, but those first subscribers are the most difficult to find. YouTube doesn’t give anything away for free, so you have to prove yourself worthy of views. Having 1000 subscribers seems to be some sort of entry level point where YouTube takes you a little bit more seriously. Now… those 1600 subscribers were slowly added over 13 years, and very few are active. Even fewer are interested in me as the content creator I am now. Most are here from the days of Linux Journal, or from a semi-viral video I had 12 years ago about breaking into my van. (really)

As I’ve been adding regular content in 2022, I’ve lost a TON of subscribers. I’ve gained some too, and the net change has been positive, but people have been unsubscribing to my channel about half as often as people are subscribing. Two steps forward, one step back. But my videos are getting 50 or so views after a couple days, and that’s a HUGE amount compared to folks starting from zero subscribers. So having a semi-active YouTube channel to start from has been a boon.

BAD THING: I’m Alone

When I made videos professionally, all I had to worry about was making videos. Every other aspect of the process was done by other folks. Marketing, publishing, selling, reviewing… all those things are up to me now. And YouTube is VERY competitive. Guess how many video thumbnails I created before starting on this adventure? None. (OK, a few, but that was back when I was still making professional videos and was instructed to put some content on YouTube as an advertisement, long story…)

Not only are all the aspects of being a creator, publisher, marketer, etc. on my shoulders, but guess what I’m not good at? All those things. So while most folks have to focus on creating their content above all else, the other stuff has been quite a challenge for me.

BAD THING: I Have a Lot of Experience

Or, more properly phrased, “I have a lot of bad habits, or outdated methods.” Don’t get me wrong, part of my “style” is just the way I am, and what makes people love me or hate me. But when it comes to the competitive world of YouTube content, my old tried and true methods aren’t what people want to see. The danger here is two-fold. On one hand, people might see me as boring and outdated with my simple jump cut editing, and headshot/slide/demo video methods of presenting info. But possibly even more dangerous is that I feel compelled to try to BE new and fresh and exciting.

For example, today, I’m going to attempt to shoot a silly intro for a video on user creation in Linux. It’s going to be me “creating” a user (myself) on the couch next to me. I’m pretty sure I can pull it off, but it’s going to take quite a bit of time to set up and edit properly. Will it be worth it? Even if it engages people more, is that what I want to do forever? Keep coming up with fancy video tricks to lure people into my content? I don’t know. It’s a weird combination of having tons of experience and being less-than-fresh in how I do things.

BAD THING: I’m Not Really a Niche Guy

To be successful on YouTube, at least at the start, conventional wisdom is to have a very narrow niche, and stick to it. Sure, once someone is very well known, they can expand a bit and the community they’ve grown will be more interested in the person than the niche, but at first, it’s important to focus on a very narrow aspect of what you love. For me, that’s IT training, with a focus on Linux and Open Source.

But that’s such a very small part of who I am. Even IT training only appeals to me because I want to help other people find their joy in life. Getting a better career, using tools that are free to learn with and free to utilize is a great path, but it’s only that — a tool on the path. I’m also interested in self-improvement, understanding happiness, conquering mental illness (which I know all too well, first hand), and countless other things that make me the whole human being I am. But if I want the freedom to chase those things, and a content creator is what I want to be — at least for now, being narrow is the path. And it kinda sucks.

BAD THING: I’m Old (but it’s not the age that is bad…)

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think I’m too old for this. Not at all. I have tons of energy and excitement left to share. I don’t ever want to “retire”, and if you know me, I doubt the first thing you think about me is how old and out of touch I see. (I hope not anyway!) No, the reason that me being old is a “bad” thing, is that I’m just starting on this journey, but I have a lot of baggage. Mainly financial baggage. I have lots of bills, lots of debt, and very little past wisdom to lean on. So everything I’m doing now is in addition to a DayJob.

Yes yes, I’m blessed to HAVE that day job. I truly am. But the notion of going “all in” on a content creation career right now is just not feasible. Too many people are depending on me, and even if things go REALLY well, that doesn’t mean it’s financially viable for a long time. I’m OK with that, but it does limit some of the things I might do. I’m not complaining, or at least I don’t mean to. It’s just a case of starting at the 30 yard line doesn’t mean I’m closer to the goal than someone further back carrying less baggage. (That’s about the best I can do for a sports metaphor, lol)

BAD THING: I’m Soft

I don’t take criticism well. Not because I think I’m perfect, in fact, quite the opposite. Any time someone points out something I’ve done less-than-ideal, it solidifies in my head that I’m indeed a worthless failure. Please note, this a personal failing on my part. I should be able to take criticism, because I’m a grown man and should understand my value outside the things I create, good or bad. But knowing that truth and living it are different. And I’m not even talking about trolls. No, I mean criticism presented in a nice way. The depth of my self-loathing is staggering.

The irony is, criticism is VITAL to anyone who wants to improve and succeed. I know this intellectually. Yet, it’s a constant struggle that I expect will only get better the more I have to push through it. When I was a “professional” content creator, I was shielded from most criticism because there were so many layers between me and the people consuming my content. The only self-advice I have here is that I need to continue to be as genuine as I can be, and not seek out only the bad stuff. Building a community of people who you can trust with both your failures and successes is important, and so that’s what I hope to do.

BAD THING: I Hate Self Promotion

Remember that bit about me being the marketing department? Yeah… I really feel like a douchebag when I promote my own stuff. It feels icky. I even think it’s a good, worthwhile thing to promote… but for some reason when I promote it myself, it feels wrong. I’m just gonna have to get over it though, because if I don’t promote myself, no one will. So if I ever DO seem like a douchebag, please let me know. Gently. 🙂

Ending with a Bookmark:

When I started this post, I had 1827 subscribers on YouTube. I just checked, and I currently have 1822. Ouch. But it’s all part of the process, and I’m OK with it. Still… 5 people clicking unsubscribe in the past hour is harsh. 🙂

When I look back at this post in 2023, hopefully it will seem as a nostalgic look back at the beginnings of what was to become a thriving community of people who want to make the world a better place. That’s ultimately my goal, to change the world. Right now, I’m gathering like-minded folks, one human at a time. Feel free to join me… https://youtube.com/shawnp0wers

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On the Occasion of Turning 46 https://brainofshawn.com/2021/07/19/on-the-occasion-of-turning-46/ https://brainofshawn.com/2021/07/19/on-the-occasion-of-turning-46/#respond Mon, 19 Jul 2021 15:14:11 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2427 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. ... Read more

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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. 🙂

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Interns, and College, and Certs. Oh My. https://brainofshawn.com/2021/06/08/interns-and-college-and-certs-oh-my/ https://brainofshawn.com/2021/06/08/interns-and-college-and-certs-oh-my/#respond Wed, 09 Jun 2021 01:49:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2418 I do not have a college degree. I think it’s important to lead with that, because while I’ve built a fairly successful career, I’ve done it without actually attaining a degree of any sort. I did attend college — a major university for 2 years, and a community college for a year. But in all ... Read more

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I do not have a college degree.

I think it’s important to lead with that, because while I’ve built a fairly successful career, I’ve done it without actually attaining a degree of any sort. I did attend college — a major university for 2 years, and a community college for a year. But in all that time (and all that debt), I never managed to piece together a degree.

Part of the problem is that like most college students, I changed my major multiple times. I started as an Electrical Engineer major. They seemed to make a lot of money, and, if I’m honest, that’s about all the thought I put into it. Then, in Calculus 3, I decided Electrical Engineers did things with numbers that just didn’t need to be done. I was also a Technical Writing major, and English major, and once I shifted to the community college, a “Liberal Arts” major. (I still don’t know what that actually means)

Don’t get me wrong, even though I didn’t get a degree, my college experience did actually help me significantly. I found myself skipping engineering classes at Michigan Tech, and hanging out in the computer labs all day (and night). There was a brand new NeXT computer lab, and it make Unix sexy. In fact, it was probably partially that time in a terminal window when I was supposed to be in engineering classes that made me fall in love with Unix/Linux.

Should I go to College?

This is question I get a lot. A lot a lot. It’s also a question I’m very hesitant to answer. Because the answer is a resounding maybe, and that’s not what anyone wants to hear. Another problem with the question is that the answer keeps changing. For example, back in 2012, I was asked this question at CBT Nuggets, and colleges were just starting to offer more than C++ programming as their only Computer Science class. Here was my response then:

This is still solid advice (well, as solid as advice from me gets anyway), but if anything, the college angle has gotten more attractive. Yes, education lags behind the cutting edge, but if you go into a university computer science program today, you’ll actually get a well rounded education on networking, operating systems, and actual useful programming languages. That still doesn’t mean it’s the right answer for everyone though, because college is very expensive, and you might be served better with a combination of certification programs, internships, and just plain old experience. When I was college-aged, there simply were no computer networking classes. Now there are, but there are also plenty of vocational programs that teach networking as well.

When I was college-aged, there simply were no computer networking classes. Now there are…

Let’s focus on my area of expertise; sourdough bread. No, just kidding, my technical specialty is Linux. And it’s an area that continues to attract more and more employers. Linux Insider posted an article during the pandemic pointing out the need for Linux-savvy workers, even as the industry moves away from traditional servers and hosts everything in the cloud. (Because guess what makes the cloud run? Yep. Linux.) And while colleges certainly offer Linux classes, they’re still lagging way behind current needs when it comes to employable skills. If you get your college degree, you’re still going to need to get certifications to not only prove your worth — but also to fill in the gaps dated college curriculum offers.

So College is a Waste?

Again, maybe. Here’s the thing, college does a couple things really, really well:

  • Teaches foundational knowledge that makes for better equipped professionals
  • Is structured in a way to teach a well-rounded educational base, wider than the specific topic of study
  • Gives students an opportunity to see if they like a variety of subjects (remember my Electrical Engineer “career”?)
  • Looks really good on a resume

And that last one is a real kicker. The current hiring process is largely automated at the early stages. Many employers use a college degree as a litmus test to determine whether or not to even interview a candidate. A college degree shows that a person has the stamina and hard work to achieve a difficult goal. Even if it doesn’t prove they’ll be a good employee, it’s often the first hurdle to even getting an interview. I personally think that’s sad, but I’m sure it’s a statistically viable way to sort the wheat from the chaff. Unfortunately, companies miss out on some really good folks who chose a different path.

I won’t lie, having a college degree does open doors, especially when applying for a job. It’s not the only way to get hired, but it’s important to judge if the cost and years spend getting educated at a university is worth it. It might be, especially if someone else is helping pay the bill. But going into $100k of debt will take a lot of years to pay off, even if you land a great job.

So What Else Is There?

This is where it’s much better to do what I say, and not what I did. When I left college, I started a small business. It failed miserably. (Like, really bad. It was ugly.) From there I got a tech support job at the local community college answering phones giving support to dialup Internet users. My experience in the computer labs at Michigan Tech, and my experience as a “small business owner” gave me enough resume fodder to get an interview. From there, after a series of very unfortunate events, I applied at a K12 school district for the technology director position. I shouldn’t have gotten that job, but I wrote a very compelling cover letter, and interviewed well. I also got very lucky. Getting lucky isn’t something you can prepare for, but all is not lost if you don’t go to college.

If you decide not to go to college, or at least not head off to university for a 4 year degree, there are a couple viable alternatives that will make you employable (even if it makes it tough to get past the automated resume filters):

  • Get an Associate’s degree at a community college.
  • Study on your own and get tech certifications from places like CompTIA, LPI, Cisco, Microsoft, etc.
  • Apply for an internship. If you can afford it, unpaid internships are an easy way to get experience.
  • Apply for an internship. Lots of interns get paid, if crappy. More on this later.
  • Get involved with some Open Source projects, especially if development is what you want to do.
  • Create an online presence. Certainly GitHub for developers, but also YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

I know this was the “no college” list, but a couple years at a community college is probably affordable, especially if you can stay home and commute. Having a degree, even an Associate’s degree, will open some doors. Even if your major is Underwater Basket-Weaving — just having the paper will potentially get you an interview.

Internships are incredible. They can be at a college, or a business in the field you’re interested in. They come in two flavors: Regular and crappy. Seriously though, some internships are unpaid. It’s the pre-employment equivalent of doing work for the exposure. It sucks. But, if there aren’t any other options, it’s a viable way to get your foot in the door and get some serious experience on your resume. There are many companies who pay their interns though, so don’t assume you’ll have to work for free. You’ll probably make a pittance, but it might be enough if you can still live at home, or have lots of roommates.

Lastly, the old adage is that nothing beats experience. That’s still true, especially if you can get to the actual interview process. An internship is incredible to put on a resume, but if you contribute to projects on GitHub (even documentation! EVERY project needs documentation!), or have projects of your own, that counts. And if a YouTube channel seems like a silly thing to start in order to get a job — I assure you, if you get to the interview stage, interviewers will check out your YouTube channel before they interview you. Same with blogging, tweeting, facebooking, linked-inning, etc. Put yourself in the hiring committee’s shoes, if they can “see” you before they actually see you, they’ll likely do so. Just be genuine, and it will be like an extended interview that you don’t have to sweat through!

You Avoided the Question Entirely

Yeah, I know. That’s what I meant at the start — it’s all maybe. Rather than a one-size-fits-all answer, hopefully this has given you a bit of insight to help you think through what will work best for you. Some of the ideas are valid regardless of your decision on college. All those bullet points above will make you more employable, and a better tech nerd in general. Getting involved in the community you’re interested in will only help make connections that might get you a job. Most of my “best” jobs have been because I knew someone who knew someone who saw my stuff. Good luck, and whatever your future looks like, I encourage you to seek after something you enjoy. If you don’t like calculus, don’t be an electrical engineer. Trust me.

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Silent Days are the Worst https://brainofshawn.com/2021/04/12/silent-days-are-the-worst/ https://brainofshawn.com/2021/04/12/silent-days-are-the-worst/#comments Mon, 12 Apr 2021 16:20:13 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2401 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 ... Read more

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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

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25 (some)things. https://brainofshawn.com/2021/01/11/25-somethings/ https://brainofshawn.com/2021/01/11/25-somethings/#respond Mon, 11 Jan 2021 17:02:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2376 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 ... Read more

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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!

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The Family Dashboard https://brainofshawn.com/2020/10/23/the-family-dashboard/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/10/23/the-family-dashboard/#respond Fri, 23 Oct 2020 14:48:35 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2371 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. ... Read more

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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>
<body>
<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>
</h3>

<?php

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

switch ($command)
{
    case "weather":
        echo file_get_contents("http://wttr.in/$option");
        break;
    case "time":
        echo time() . "  <-- that's how I read time! I'm a robot!";
        break;
    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 />";
        break;
    case "uname":
        echo shell_exec("uname -a");
        break;
    default:
        echo "<h1>Press a button!</h1>";

}

?>
</body></html>

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!

Weather

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:


<?php

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

echo "<pre>";
print_r($json);
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!

Troubleshooting

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!

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Unlimited Local Storage for $12 per Month. Really. https://brainofshawn.com/2020/08/31/unlimited-local-storage-for-12-per-month-really/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/08/31/unlimited-local-storage-for-12-per-month-really/#comments Mon, 31 Aug 2020 16:21:24 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2358 I have a 48TB NAS in my basement. Granted, thanks to RAID6 I only (only!) have 36TB of usable space, but still, I assumed that would last me forever. Thanks to ripping DVDs and Blurays, I was so very, very wrong. Rather than spend a few thousand dollars on a new NAS, however, I decided ... Read more

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I have a 48TB NAS in my basement. Granted, thanks to RAID6 I only (only!) have 36TB of usable space, but still, I assumed that would last me forever. Thanks to ripping DVDs and Blurays, I was so very, very wrong. Rather than spend a few thousand dollars on a new NAS, however, I decided to host my files in the cloud. The storage is unlimited for $12/month, and after 6 months or so, I can tell you it’s a viable alternative to local storage. Plus, it mounts exactly like a local NAS!

The Service

There are plenty of cloud-based storage solutions available, but they are all either very limited in storage space, or very expensive per GB. There is one solution, however, that provides unlimited storage for a set monthly price. Google Drive.

Officially, in order to get unlimited storage, you must get a Business Gsuite with 5 users. Each user is $12/month, and so you’d have to pay $60/month to get unlimited storage. Honestly, $60 a month for that much space is still insanely affordable — but if you open a Business Gsuite account with a single user (so only $12/mo), you still get unlimited storage. It might seem like an error Google would quickly fix, but it’s been that way for years. I’m currently using more than 40TB of space on my Google Drive, and only have a single user on my Gsuite for Business.

The Problem

Google Drive is nice, but let’s be honest, no one wants to use their web interface as bulk storage. It’s clumsy, slow, and as much as I love Google, the organization is confusing at best. Google does provide “Google Drive Stream”, but due to local caching, you still need local storage or you get “not enough space” errors.

Thankfully, Rclone makes direct access to Google Drive seamless. It allows you to create access via keypair (no annoying logging in all the time), and even lets you mount your remote share on your local filesystem. And in true Steve Jobs “one more thing” fashion, it also allows you to encrypt files and directories in real time, so your privacy is protected even if your data is stored on someone else’s hard drive. It’s seriously amazing. And Rclone? Open Source and totally free!

The Process

Rclone is in most Linux distributions, and even has Windows and OSX versions available that all work similarly. In this video, I show you how to quickly set up a share and mount it on the local filesystem. If it seems too good to be true, yeah, I get that. But I’ve been using it for months and I’ve been more than impressed. It’s been reliable, and robust enough to support a handful of users reading and writing at the same time.

You can do a bit of extra work to create your own application API, which will make the performance more robust. It doesn’t cost any extra money, but it’s admittedly a bit of confusing clicking.

The Training?

You probably know I create training for a living. I have more in-depth training on rclone over at CBT Nuggets. If you’re already a subscriber, you can go to https://snar.co/cbt-rclone to get to the skill directly.

If you’re not yet a subscriber at CBT Nuggets, you can see my Everything Linux course overview, which includes my rclone skill and many others. Feel free to sign up for a free trial if you want to view my training. https://snar.co/cbt-everythinglinux

(This isn’t a creepy bait and switch — the free video above really does walk you through the process. There’s just more capability if you’re interested in diving in deeper, and want to check out my professional DayJob training!)

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The Done Manifesto https://brainofshawn.com/2020/08/28/the-done-manifesto/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/08/28/the-done-manifesto/#comments Fri, 28 Aug 2020 22:17:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2352 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 ... Read more

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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!

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I Am Racist https://brainofshawn.com/2020/06/02/i-am-racist/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/06/02/i-am-racist/#respond Tue, 02 Jun 2020 18:39:50 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2347 I don’t want to be. I don’t try to be. My mom didn’t purposefully raise me to be. But I am. White Privilege. I’m racist because I’m white and I live in a country where that affords me privileges black folks don’t get. Just because I’m white. I don’t want to put white privilege in ... Read more

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I don’t want to be. I don’t try to be. My mom didn’t purposefully raise me to be. But I am.

White Privilege. I’m racist because I’m white and I live in a country where that affords me privileges black folks don’t get. Just because I’m white. I don’t want to put white privilege in quotes, because that implies its existence is in debate. It’s not. I have privileges as a white person that others simply don’t have. And yes, I AM ashamed of it. Just because I didn’t seek out my white privilege doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. And if I “choose” to not use my white privilege, well, I can’t. That’s not how it works. I have plenty of struggles, and I even grew up very poor — but not because of my skin color. Others can’t say the same.

Systemic Racism. I’m also racist because of the systemic racism that still exists in our country. I read a post by a black man who has to walk his tiny little poodle when he wants to go for a walk, because with the tiny poodle, he’s less threatening. That seems absurd. Surely I wouldn’t treat a black man any differently if we passed on the street. But then I thought about it. Would I? If this 6’2″, athletically built black man was walking down the street toward me, would I be nervous? What if he was having a bad day and had a sour look on his face? What if he hated white people? (See? Systemic racism. He MIGHT hate white people, and he might have really good reasons to feel that way. And NO, that’s not “reverse racism”, because there’s just no such thing) I’ve grown up in a bubble, even though I lived in the inner city of Detroit as a child. I was still a white kid in the inner city, so when it came time for me to get a job, I had an easier time simply because I’m white. (Yes, white privilege is part of systemic racism, but I wanted to list them both in bold)

Black Lives Matter. I can not understand why this phrase offends people. It’s not saying or implying that black lives matter more than any other lives. Just that they matter. As much. When we respond, “All Lives Matter” — we’ve missed the point entirely. We can’t erase the disproportionate police brutality by cleverly overwriting the sentiment with inclusivity. Of COURSE all lives matter, but that should include black lives, and the evidence shows it’s not the case. One of my favorite responses to saying “All Lives Matter” is this comic by Kris Straub:

Black People Don’t Need a White Savior. I can’t fix this. I can’t even understand all of it, because of my white privilege. So what should I do? Again, I don’t have all the answers. I know that if we want to make a difference as white people, we should listen to black people. Not so we can fix it, but so we can humbly try to help. I’m a problem solver by nature. I hate that this isn’t something I can fix, but I simply can’t. Hopefully I can be part of the solution.

So to my white friends: No one is mad at you for being white. No one blames you for your white privilege. But denying systemic racism exists is insulting, and a non-starter for moving forward. And honestly, we’re so blinded to the reality, I’m sure I’ve misrepresented things in this very post. Be humble. Acknowledge the disparity. Care. It’s not about us, even if it’s because of us.

My Youngest, Lizzie

To my black friends: You don’t need more burdens, that much I understand. But as a group, we (white people) are so sheltered from reality, we not only don’t know what we should do, we don’t even understand the depth of what’s going on. When white people say, “All Lives Matter”, many of them are trying to be loving and understanding. We want to be better. But we’re spoiled, ignorant, and are used to “fixing” things by snapping our fingers. (GAWD that’s an embarrassing truth) When I see my daughter proudly holding a Black Lives Matter sign while getting scorned by people in big trucks waving confederate flags — I have hope. But even her protest is a cry for guidance. And it’s guidance I can’t give her. Because I don’t know. And my ignorance is embarrassing, but I’d rather be embarrassed and look foolish than be silent and look hateful.

And lastly, to quote my friend Jim Wright, “If you want to be a better nation, be better citizens.”

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We Can’t Do This Alone https://brainofshawn.com/2020/04/05/we-cant-do-this-alone/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/04/05/we-cant-do-this-alone/#comments Sun, 05 Apr 2020 15:51:37 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2343 (NOTE: This is being written during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically during the “Stay at Home” directive in Michigan.) This week, the CDC announced that it is recommended to wear cloth masks while out in public. A friend of mine kindly made and delivered really cool masks for Donna and me to wear when we go ... Read more

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(NOTE: This is being written during the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically during the “Stay at Home” directive in Michigan.)

My Lungs Suck. Barely.

This week, the CDC announced that it is recommended to wear cloth masks while out in public. A friend of mine kindly made and delivered really cool masks for Donna and me to wear when we go out for walks. You’d think this post was going to be about how my friend Dennis making us masks is how we can work together to get through this. And while that’s true, that’s not what I’m writing about.

Donna and I have been in quarantine for a little over 2 weeks now. It’s because I have health issues that put me at high risk for complications if I get the virus. Today, my health issues really just kicked me in the pants. See, about 3 minutes into our walk, I was reminded just how weak my lungs are. Even with the thin, cloth mask — my lungs were overwhelmed. I had trouble catching my breath, I started wheezing, and my chest started hurting.

Had I not experienced this before, it would have been terrifying. But sadly, I was just reminded that I have never been able to wear masks. When we emptied the hay out of our barn a couple years back, I tried to wear an N95 mask (I also have allergies, hay dust is a monster), and I couldn’t even wear it when riding the tractor. My lungs are just too weak. In fact, even after those couple minutes yesterday, my lungs are still angry today. I just can’t wear a mask.

And that’s the point of this post. Wearing a mask is only a recommendation at this point. I was planning to wear one whenever I go out for a walk, to set a good example. But I can’t. If you can wear a mask, it would be a kindness to people like me. Not even because you might be infected and not know it (you could be), but because wearing a mask is an outward sign that you care about others. Others like me.

I feel bad that I can’t wear a mask. I apologize for the appearance I show of not caring, or not taking the CDC recommendations seriously. But if we all do what we can, we can put the humanity into our society. Be safe. Wash your hands. <3

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Isolation Funk https://brainofshawn.com/2020/03/24/isolation-funk/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/03/24/isolation-funk/#respond Tue, 24 Mar 2020 15:47:31 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2339 I work from home every day. This new COVID-19 stuff shouldn’t be all that different for me. But boy howdy is it ever. Part of it is because I’m in strict quarantine. I’m not going to the store, I’m not meeting anyone at the door, and I’m not even going through drive-thru anything. I’m staying ... Read more

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Why are you still at my house? GO AWAY, HUMAN!

I work from home every day. This new COVID-19 stuff shouldn’t be all that different for me. But boy howdy is it ever. Part of it is because I’m in strict quarantine. I’m not going to the store, I’m not meeting anyone at the door, and I’m not even going through drive-thru anything. I’m staying in the house, and going for walks with my wife. That’s literally it.

I’m also a hard-core introvert. I *like* to be alone. But it’s different when you’re alone because you can’t be around other people. There’s something comforting about knowing you COULD go to the coffee shop and sit near human beings if you wanted to. Isolation is oddly painful. Thankfully I have my wife with me, but it’s difficult on her, because while I’m at least partially prepared for solidarity, she’s a social person who actually likes people.

My plan has been to livestream often, upload videos to stay connected with the world, and hopefully help others out of their own funk by sharing our funkiness online. But as the days go on, not only haven’t I had the energy to reach out to the world, I’ve found myself less and less willing and capable to converse even textually. UGH.

I’m doing my best to get past the funk. I’ll even try to post/upload/stream more human stuff as soon as I can muster the strength. I think today I’m going to wire a few new birdcams to get some much-needed nature into my life. I’ll share with everyone, especially once the feeders are live.

Stay strong, everyone. We’re still all in this together, even if we’re apart. Keep eating. Keep showering. Keep shaving (legs or face, or both if you’re into that). And if you’re someone who posts positive things online, keep posting. If you’re someone who follows people who can’t help but post online (ahem, sorry), keep following and commenting.

And of course, wash your hands. 🙂

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This is Not Normal Telecommuting https://brainofshawn.com/2020/03/15/this-is-not-normal-telecommuting/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/03/15/this-is-not-normal-telecommuting/#respond Sun, 15 Mar 2020 16:15:23 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2334 Those of us who are work-from-home-introverts can be found online joking about how we’ve been preparing for this Coronavirus thing for our entire lives. And yes, I suspect the transition to working from home will be easier on introverts, and will be almost no change for existing telecommuters. That said, working from home this past ... Read more

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Flamethrowers are standard issue for telecommuters…

Those of us who are work-from-home-introverts can be found online joking about how we’ve been preparing for this Coronavirus thing for our entire lives. And yes, I suspect the transition to working from home will be easier on introverts, and will be almost no change for existing telecommuters. That said, working from home this past week was not normal. Even for those of us who normally work from home.

Some things you might be feeling are normal when starting to work from home:

  • Feeling like you’re not really working because you’re sitting at the same table where you just ate Lucky Charms with your kids
  • Worried that your coworkers think you’re slacking off
  • Mortified at the thought of your kids and/or animals interrupting a meeting
  • Being distracted by being home
  • Feeling alone, so alone, so lonely
  • Having a profound fear that you’re actually a senile old person who is being humored by caregivers into thinking you’re actually doing a job when you’re really just sitting at a table in an old folks home typing on an Etch-a-Sketch and video conferencing at an old photograph of a team building event you attended back in 1982
  • Ok, that last one was just me. Sorry if I’ve introduced that into your own psychosis

Some things, however, are NOT part of the normal transition into telecommuting:

Difficulty Focusing

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to get distracted when you work from home. The distractions can be anything from falling into a YouTube hole, to overthinking your interaction with a coworker that seemed like maybe it was tense but you can’t tell because you’re not there to read their body language. Working from home during the Coronavirus is different though.

  • You probably don’t have an established location to work. When you telecommute regularly, you have a work space, even if it is something you set up and tear down every day. After a couple days, you’ll get better at “being at work”.
  • Your kids are probably home with you. This is HUGE. Normally when you work from home, you don’t have your kids with you. During this time of social separation, your kids and possibly spouse are just THERE all the time. That’s not normal, and it’s affecting my productivity as well. And I have a separate office in a remote part of the house.
  • Your company is not prepared to have their entire workforce work from home. As someone who is particularly vulnerable to this virus, I’m grateful and quite honestly proud of companies who are allowing people to work from home. But it’s a sudden adjustment with no time to prep. It will NOT be smooth. It WILL affect productivity. At first, productivity will go down. (That said, I think telecommuting in general is underutilized, and it can help productivity — but this is a special circumstance)
  • YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT COVID-19 ALL THE TIME. And of course you are. So am I. It’s changing the way we live our daily lives. You’re reading this from your kitchen table for Pete’s sake. Our world has been turned bonker-town nutsy-whack. When you’re thinking about if your kid’s cough means he infected Grandma last week, or if you have enough food and toilet paper to stay indoors for a few weeks — it’s going to affect your productivity. Even if you were still in the office. In fact, if you were in the office, and not safe at home, your productivity would probably be even LOWER than it is now.

So basically, welcome to the world of telecommuting. Also, this is not the world of telecommuting. You’re getting a crappy, dystopian version of working from home. When this current emergency is behind us, there might be some changes to how we think about work. There may be opportunities for more employees to transition to telecommuting. Know that while it is a strange adjustment, the weird version you’re experiencing now is not normal. But that’s OK. We’re all in this together, even though we have to be apart. Thank goodness for technology. Hit me up on Twitter or Facebook if you want some social interaction. I’ll even be livestreaming a lot more, just to have a place to spend time together.

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Cryptocurrency and the IRS https://brainofshawn.com/2020/01/29/cryptocurrency-and-the-irs/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/01/29/cryptocurrency-and-the-irs/#respond Thu, 30 Jan 2020 00:26:16 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2324 One for you, one for me, and 0.15366BTC for Uncle Sam.

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[NOTE: This is a piece I wrote for Linux Journal a few years back. It’s still very relevant, and still important information for anyone dabbling in crypto. This seems like a good time of year to repost it.]

One for you, one for me, and 0.15366BTC for Uncle Sam.

When people ask me about bitcoin, it’s usually because someone told them about my days as an early miner. I had thousands of bitcoin, and I sold them for around a dollar each. At the time, it was awesome, but looking back—well you can do the math. I’ve been mining and trading with cryptocurrency ever since it was invented, but it’s only over the past few years that I’ve been concerned about taxes.

In the beginning, no one knew how to handle the tax implications of bitcoin. In fact, that was one of the favorite aspects of the idea for most folks. It wasn’t “money”, so it couldn’t be taxed. We could start an entire societal revolution without government oversight! Those times have changed, and now the government (at least here in the US) very much does expect to get taxes on cryptocurrency gains. And you know what? It’s very, very complicated, and few tax professionals know how to handle it.

What Is Taxable?

Cryptocurrencies (bitcoin, litecoin, ethereum and any of the 10,000 other altcoins) are taxed based on the “gains” you make with them. (Often in this article I mention bitcoin specifically, but the rules are the same for all cryptocurrency.) Gains are considered income, and income is taxed. What sorts of things are considered gains? Tons. Here are a few examples:

  • Mining.
  • Selling bitcoin for cash.
  • Trading one crypto coin for another on an exchange.
  • Buying something directly with bitcoin.

The frustrating part about taxes and cryptocurrency is that every transaction must be calculated. See, with cash transactions, a dollar is always worth a dollar (according to the government, let’s not get into a discussion about fiat currency). But with cryptocurrency, at any given moment, the coin is worth a certain amount of dollars. Since we’re taxed on dollars, that variance must be tracked so we are sure to report how much “money” we had to spend.

It gets even more complicated, because we’re taxed on the same bitcoin over and over. It’s not “double dipping”, because the taxes are only on the gains and losses that occurred between transactions. It’s not unfair, but it’s insanely complex. Let’s look at the life of a bitcoin from the moment it’s mined. For simplicity’s sake, let’s say it took exactly one day to mine one bitcoin:

1) After 24 hours of mining, I receive 1BTC. The market price for bitcoin that day was $1,000 per BTC. It took me $100 worth of electricity that day to mine (yes, I need to track the electrical usage if I want to deduct it as a loss).

Taxable income for day 1: $900.

2) The next day, I trade the bitcoin for ethereum on an exchange. The cost of bitcoin on this day is $1,500. The cost of ethereum on this day is $150. Since the value of my 1 bitcoin has increased since I mined it, when I make the trade on the exchange, I have to claim the increase in price as income. I now own 10 ethereum, but because of the bitcoin value increase, I now have more income. There are no deductions for electricity, because I already had the bitcoin; I’m just paying the capital gains on the price increase.

Taxable income for day 2: $500.

3) The next day, the price of ethereum skyrockets to $300, and the price of bitcoin plummets to $1,000. I decide to trade my 10 ethereum for 3BTC. When I got my ethereum, they were worth $1,500, but when I just traded them for BTC, they were worth $3,000. So I made $1,500 worth of profit.

Taxable income for day 3: $1,500.

4) Finally, on the 4th day, even though the price is only $1,200, I decide to sell my bitcoin for cash. I have 3BTC, so I get $3,600 in cash. Looking back, when I got those 3BTC, they were worth $1,000 each, so that means I’ve made another $600 profit.

Taxable income for day 4: $600.

It might seem unfair to be taxed over and over on the same initial investment, but if you break down what’s happening, it’s clear we’re only getting taxed on price increases. If the price drops and then we sell, our taxable income is negative for that, and it’s a deduction. If you have to pay a lot in taxes on bitcoin, it means you’ve made a lot of money with bitcoin!

Exceptions?

There are a few exceptions to the rules—well, they’re not really exceptions, but more clarifications. Since we’re taxed only on gains, it’s important to think through the life of your bitcoin. For example:

  1. Employer paying in bitcoin: I work for a company that will pay me in bitcoin if I desire. Rather than a check going into my bank account, every two weeks a bitcoin deposit goes into my wallet. I need to track the initial cost of the bitcoin as I receive it, but usually employers will send you the “after taxes” amount. That means the bitcoin you receive already has been taxed. You still need to track what it’s worth on the day you receive it in order to determine gain/loss when you eventually spend it, but the initial total has most likely already been taxed. (Check with your employer to be sure though.)
  2. Moving bitcoin from one wallet to another: this is actually a tougher question and is something worth talking about with your tax professional. Let’s say you move your bitcoin from a BitPay wallet to your fancy new Trezor hardware wallet. Do you need to count the gains/losses since the time it was initially put into your BitPay wallet? Regardless of what you and your tax professional decide, you’re not going to “lose” either way. If you decide to report the gain/loss, your cost basis for that bitcoin changes to the current date and price. If you don’t count a gain/loss, you stick to the initial cost basis from the deposit into the BitPay wallet.

The moral of the story here is to find a tax professional comfortable with cryptocurrency.

Accounting Complications

If you’re a finance person, terms like FIFO and LIFO make perfect sense to you. (FIFO = First In First Out, and LIFO = Last In First Out.) Although it’s certainly easy to understand, it wasn’t something I’d considered before the world of bitcoin. Here’s an example of how they differ:

  • Day 1: buy 1BTC for $100.
  • Day 2: buy 1BTC for $500.
  • Day 3: buy 1BTC for $1,000.
  • Day 4: buy 1BTC for $10,000.
  • Day 5: sell 1BTC for $12,000.

If I use FIFO to determine my gains and losses, when I sell the 1BTC on day 5, I have to claim a capital gain of $11,900. That’s considered taxable income. However, if I use LIFO to determine the gains and losses, when I sell the 1BTC on day 5, I have to claim only $2,000 worth of capital gains. The question is basically “which BTC am I selling?”

There are other accounting methods too, but FIFO and LIFO are the most common, and they should be okay to use with the IRS. Please note, however, that you can’t mix and match FIFO/LIFO. You need to pick one and stick with it. In fact, if you change the method from year to year, you need to change the method officially with the IRS, which is another task for your tax professional.

The Long and Short of It

Another complication when it comes to calculating taxes doesn’t have to do with gains or losses, but rather the types of gains and losses. Specifically, if you have an asset (such as bitcoin) for longer than a year before you sell it, it’s considered a long-term gain. That income is taxed at a lower rate than if you sell it within the first year of ownership. With bitcoin, it can be complicated if you move the currency from wallet to wallet. But if you can show you’ve had the bitcoin for more than a year, it’s very much worth the effort, because the long-term gain tax is significantly lower.

This was a big factor in my decision on whether to cash in ethereum or bitcoin for a large purchase I made this year. I had the bitcoin in a wallet, but it didn’t “age” as bitcoin for a full year. The ethereum had just been sitting in my Coinbase account for 13 months. I ended up saving significant money by selling the ethereum instead of a comparable amount of bitcoin, even though the capital gain amount might have been similar. The difference in long-term and short-term tax rates are significant enough that it’s worth waiting to sell if you can.

Overwhelmed?

If you’ve made only a couple transactions during the past year, it almost can be fun to figure out your gains/losses. If you’re like me, however, and you try to purchase things with bitcoin at every possible opportunity, it can become overwhelming fast. The first thing I want to stress is that it’s important to talk to someone who is familiar with cryptocurrency and taxes. This article wasn’t intended to prepare you for handling the tax forms yourself, but rather to show why you might need professional help!

Unfortunately, if you live in a remote rural area like I do, finding a tax professional who is familiar with bitcoin can be tough—or potentially impossible. The good news is that the IRS is handling cryptocurrency like any other capital gain/loss, so with the proper help, any good tax person should be able to get through it. FIFO, LIFO, cost basis and terms like those aren’t specific to bitcoin. The parts that are specific to bitcoin can be complicated, but there is an incredible resource online that will help.

If you head over to BitcoinTaxes (Figure 1), you’ll find an incredible website designed for bitcoin and crypto enthusiasts. I think there is a free offering for folks with just a handful of transactions, but for $29, I was able to use the site to track every single cryptocurrency transaction I made throughout the year. BitcoinTaxes has some incredible features:

  • Automatically calculates rates based on historical market prices.
  • Tracks gains/losses including long-term/short-term ramifications.
  • Handles purchases made with bitcoin individually and determines gains/losses per transaction (Figure 2).
  • Supports multiple accounting methods (FIFO/LIFO).
  • Integrates with online exchanges/wallets to pull data.
  • Creates tax forms.

The last bullet point is really awesome. The intricacies of bitcoin and taxes are complicated, but the BitcoinTaxes site can fill out the forms for you. Once you’re entered all your information, you can print the tax forms so you can deliver them to your tax professional. The process for determining what goes on the forms might be unfamiliar to many tax preparers, but the forms you get from BitcoinTaxes are standard IRS tax forms, which the tax pro will fully understand.

Figure 1. The BitcoinTaxes site makes calculating tax burdens far less burdensome.

Figure 2. If you do the math, you can see the price of bitcoin was drastically different for each transaction.

Do you need to pay $29 in order to calculate all your cryptocurrency tax information properly? Certainly not. But for me, the site saved me so many hours of labor that it was well worth it. Plus, while I’m a pretty smart guy, the BitcoinTaxes site was designed with the sole purpose of calculating tax information. It’s nice to have that expertise on hand.

My parting advice is please take taxes seriously—especially this year. The IRS has been working hard to get information from companies like Coinbase regarding taxpayer’s gains/losses. In fact, Coinbase was required to give the IRS financial records on 14,355 of its users. Granted, those accounts are only people who have more than $20,000 worth of transactions, but it’s just the first step. Reporting things properly now will make life far less stressful down the road. And remember, if you have a ton of taxes to pay for your cryptocurrency, that means you made even more money in profit. It doesn’t make paying the IRS any more fun, but it helps make the sore spot in your wallet hurt a little less.

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PoE, PoE+, and Passive PoE https://brainofshawn.com/2020/01/08/poe-poe-and-passive-poe/ https://brainofshawn.com/2020/01/08/poe-poe-and-passive-poe/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2020 03:27:37 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2320 If you’re befuddled by every Poe other than Edgar Allen, after this short blog post, you’ll be confused… nevermore. I’ve been installing a lot of POE devices recently, and the different methods for providing power over Ethernet cables can be very confusing. There are a few standards in place, and then there’s a method that ... Read more

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If you’re befuddled by every Poe other than Edgar Allen, after this short blog post, you’ll be confused… nevermore.

I’ve been installing a lot of POE devices recently, and the different methods for providing power over Ethernet cables can be very confusing. There are a few standards in place, and then there’s a method that isn’t a standard, but is widely used.

802.3af or Active PoE:

This is the oldest standard for providing power over Ethernet cables. It allows a maximum of 15.4 watts of power to be transmitted, and the devices (switch and peripheral) negotiate the amount of power and the wires on which the power is transmitted. If a device says it is PoE-compliant, that compliance is usually referring to 802.3af.

802.3at or PoE+:

The main difference between PoE and PoE+ is the amount of power that can be transmitted. There is still negotiation to determine the amount of power and what wires it’s transmitted on, but PoE+ supports up to 25.5 watts of power. Often, access points with multiple radios or higher-powered antennas require more power than 802.3af can supply.

Passive PoE:

This provides power over the Ethernet lines, but it doesn’t negotiate the amount of power or the wires on which the power is sent. Many devices use Passive PoE (notably, the Ubiquiti line of network hardware often uses 24v Passive PoE) to provide power to remote devices. With Passive PoE, the proprietary nature of the power specifics means that it’s often wise to use only power injectors or switches specifically designed for the devices that require Passive PoE. The power is “always on”, so it’s possible to burn out devices if they’re not prepared for electrified Ethernet wires, or if the CAT5 cabling is wired incorrectly.

Figure 1. This AP requires a Passive PoE 24v supply. It can be confusing, because even though it says it’s PoE, it won’t power on using a standard 802.3af switch.

The best practice for using power over Ethernet is either to use equipment that adheres to the 802.3af/at standards or to use the power injectors or switches specifically designed for the hardware. Usually, the standard-based PoE devices are more expensive, but the ability to use any brand PoE switch and device often makes the extra expense worthwhile. That said, there’s nothing wrong with Passive PoE, as long as the correct power is given to the correct devices.

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Finding the Joy in 2019 https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/31/finding-the-joy-in-2019/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/31/finding-the-joy-in-2019/#respond Tue, 31 Dec 2019 17:52:46 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2311 This won’t be a long, navel-gazing post about all the wisdom I’ve gathered over the past year. Rather, a quick list of things that stuck out to me. And honestly, it’ll probably largely be from the past couple months, because a year is a long time to remember. And I didn’t take notes. 🙂 Happiness ... Read more

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Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.
Nigel enjoyed 2019. Especially the fishy bits.

This won’t be a long, navel-gazing post about all the wisdom I’ve gathered over the past year. Rather, a quick list of things that stuck out to me. And honestly, it’ll probably largely be from the past couple months, because a year is a long time to remember. And I didn’t take notes. 🙂

  • Happiness is a funny thing. I realized this year that, for me at least, happiness isn’t the result of things done well. Rather, happiness tends to cause things to go well. If I focus first on being happy, content, and having fun — those things like work, family, and hobbies tend to be more successful. And how does one focus on being happy? Oddly enough, choosing to be happy.
  • Facebook isn’t a good source for news. But (un?)fortunately it’s a really good place to find out about people in your life. If you want to see who a person really is, look at what they post/share/like. Or don’t, because it’s often more heartbreaking than anything.
  • Proxmox is awesome. Sorry in advance to my non-nerdy friends, but Proxmox is a virtualization platform, and I’m sad to say I haven’t used it before this year. I’ve been so very foolish to wait. It’s incredible. Hopefully you’ll hear more about it from me in 2020, because holy cat biscuits am I a fan.
  • eBay is a great place to buy servers. If you can deal with last-generation hardware, buying use/reconditioned servers on eBay is so affordable, it feels criminal. Granted buying used equipment forces you to focus on redundancy and backups in case of failure — but shouldn’t you be focusing on those things anyway?!?!?
  • Losing weight is HARD. And it’s even harder for women than men. I lost over 50 pounds this year, and although I gained back 11-ish over the holidays, the past 6 months have been a big first step in a lifestyle change. I’m in my mid-40s now, and I need to eat far less, and exercise far more often than I did in decades past. I want to get really old someday, and keeping my body healthy and strong is an important part of that goal.
  • Point of view is critical. I’m a pretty sickly guy. From bad lungs, to bad kidneys, to heart concerns in my 20s — there’s a lot wrong with me. (Seriously, that’s just a tiny fraction of my issues, I don’t want to depress anyone with the entire list, especially myself!) I try daily to focus on how healthy I am in spite of all the things working against me. I’m not sickly, I’m impossible to kill!
  • Learning is awesome. Yeah, I know, I’m a trainer by profession so this sounds like a marketing tactic, but I mean for myself as much as anyone else. I absolutely love learning. This year alone I:
    • Built a hydroponic system in my basement
    • Learned this decade’s nuances with video and live-streaming
    • Installed lighting systems of multiple brands/kinds/styles all over my house and office
    • Learned a bit of a new programming language (python)
    • Read over a book a week
    • Left the country (this is a big deal for me, it’s a phobia)
    • Fixed a refrigerator
    • Installed a dishwasher
    • Bought/used/learned/installed/played_with more technology and gadgets than anyone has a right to
    • Finally pinned a tweet (sorry it took so long, Jake!)

I don’t know what 2020 has in store for me health-wise, work-wise, etc. — but I know that if I approach it purposely filled with joy first, it will be far better than if I try to create happiness by doing things. If I learned anything from 2019, it’s that joy is a choice. A decision. And it puts all the other things in place, regardless of what those things might be. Happy New Year, everyone. Let’s make it awesome together. 🙂

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Grepping is Awesome. Just Don’t Glob it Up! https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/10/grepping-is-awesome-just-dont-glob-it-up/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/10/grepping-is-awesome-just-dont-glob-it-up/#respond Tue, 10 Dec 2019 17:46:00 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2305 This article covers some grep and regex basics. There are generally two types of coffee drinkers. The first type buys a can of pre-ground beans and uses the included scoop to make their automatic drip coffee in the morning. The second type picks single-origin beans from various parts of the world, accepts only beans that ... Read more

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Greps and pipes and greps and pipes and greps and pipes…

This article covers some grep and regex basics.

There are generally two types of coffee drinkers. The first type buys a can of pre-ground beans and uses the included scoop to make their automatic drip coffee in the morning. The second type picks single-origin beans from various parts of the world, accepts only beans that have been roasted within the past week and grinds those beans with a conical burr grinder moments before brewing in any number of complicated methods. Text searching is a bit like that.

For most things on the command line, people think of *.* or *.txt and are happy to use file globbing to select the files they want. When it comes to grepping a log file, however, you need to get a little fancier. The confusing part is when the syntax of globbing and regex overlap. Thankfully, it’s not hard to figure out when to use which construct.

Globbing

The command shell uses globbing for filename completion. If you type something like ls *.txt, you’ll get a list of all the files that end in .txt in the current directory. If you do ls R*.txt, you’ll get all the files that start with capital R and have the .txt extension. The asterisk is a wild card that lets you quickly filter which files you mean.

You also can use a question mark in globbing if you want to specify a single character. So, typing ls read??.txt will list readme.txt, but not read.txt. That’s different from ls read*.txt, which will match both readme.txt and read.txt, because the asterisk means “zero or more characters” in the file glob.

Here’s the easy way to remember if you’re using globbing (which is very simple) vs. regular expressions: globbing is done to filenames by the shell, and regex is used for searching text. The only frustrating exception to this is that sometimes the shell is too smart and conveniently does globbing when you don’t want it to—for example:


grep file* README.TXT

In most cases, this will search the file README.TXT looking for the regular expression file*, which is what you normally want. But if there happens to be a file in the current folder that matches the file* glob (let’s say filename.txt), the shell will assume you meant to pass that to grep, and so grep actually will see:


grep filename.txt README.TXT

Gee, thank you so much Mr. Shell, but that’s not what I wanted to do. For that reason, I recommend always using quotation marks when using grep. 99% of the time you won’t get an accidental glob match, but that 1% can be infuriating. So when using grep, this is much safer:


grep "file*" README.TXT

Because even if there is a filename.txt, the shell won’t substitute it automatically.

So, globs are for filenames, and regex is for searching text. That’s the first thing to understand. The next thing is to realize that similar syntax means different things.

Glob and Regex Conflicts

I don’t want this article to become a super in-depth piece on regex; rather, I want you to understand simple regex, especially as it conflicts with blobbing. Table 1 shows a few of the most commonly confused symbols and what they mean in each case.

Table 1. Commonly Used Symbols

Special CharacterMeaning in GlobsMeaning in Regex
*zero or more characterszero or more of the character it follows
?single occurrence of any characterzero or one of the character it follows but not more than 1
.literal “.” characterany single character

To add insult to injury, you might be thinking about globs when you use grep, but just because you get the expected results doesn’t mean you got the results for the correct reason. Let me try to explain. Here is a text file called filename.doc:


The fast dog is fast.
The faster dogs are faster.
A sick dog should see a dogdoc.
This file is filename.doc

If you type:


grep "fast*" filename.doc

The first two lines will match. Whether you’re thinking globs or regex, that makes sense. But if you type:


grep "dogs*" filename.doc

The first three lines will match, but if you’re thinking in globs, that doesn’t make sense. Since grep uses regular expressions (regex) when searching files, the asterisk means “zero or more occurrences of the previous character”, so in the second example, it matches dog and dogs, because having zero “s” characters matches the regex.

And let’s say you typed this:


grep "*.doc" filename.doc

This will match the last two lines. The asterisk doesn’t actually do anything in this command, because it’s not following any character. The dot in regex means “any character”, so it will match the “.doc”, but it also will match “gdoc” in “dogdoc”, so both lines match.

The moral of the story is that grep never uses globbing. The only exception is when the shell does globbing before passing the command on to grep, which is why it’s always a good idea to use quotation marks around the regular expression you are trying to grep for.

Use fgrep to Avoid Regex

If you don’t want the power of regex, it can be very frustrating. This is especially true if you’re actually looking for some of the special characters in a bunch of text. You can use the fgrep command (or grep -F, which is the same thing) in order to skip any regex substitutions. Using fgrep, you’ll search for exactly what you type, even if they are special characters. Here is a text file called file.txt:


I really hate regex.
All those stupid $, {}, and \ stuff ticks me off.
Why can't text be text?

If you try to use regular grep like this:


grep "$," file.txt

you’ll get no results. That’s because the “$” is a special character (more on that in a bit). If you’d like to grep for special characters without escaping them, or knowing the regex code to get what you want, this will work fine:


grep -F "$," file.txt

And, grep will return the second line of the text file because it matches the literal characters. It’s possible to build a regex query to search for special characters, but it can become complicated quickly. Plus, fgrep is much, much faster on a large text file.

Some Simple, Useful Regex

Okay, now that you know when to use globbing and when to use regular expressions, let’s look at a bit of regex that can make grepping much more useful. I find myself using the caret and dollar sign symbols in regex fairly often. Caret means “at the beginning of the line”, and dollar sign means “at the end of the line”. I used to mix them up, so my silly method to remember is that a farmer has to plant carrots at the beginning of the season in order to sell them for dollars at the end of the season. It’s silly, but it works for me!

Here’s a sample text file named file.txt:


chickens eat corn
corn rarely eats chickens
people eat chickens and corn
chickens rarely eat people

If you were to type:


grep "chickens" file.txt

you will get all four lines returned, because “chickens” is in each line. But if you add some regex to the mix:


grep "^chickens" file.txt

you’ll get both the first and fourth line returned, because the word “chickens” is at the beginning of those lines. If you type:


grep "corn$" file.txt

you will see the first and third lines, because they both end with “corn”. However, if you type:


grep "^chickens.*corn$" file.txt

you will get only the first line, because it is the only one that begins with chickens and ends with corn. This example might look confusing, but there are three regular expressions that build the search. Let’s look at each of them.

First, ^chickens means the line must start with chickens.

Second, .* means zero or more of any character, because remember, the dot means any character, and the asterisk means zero or more of the previous character.

Third, corn$ means the line must end with corn.

When you’re building regular expressions, you just mush them all together like that in a long string. It can become confusing, but if you break down each piece, it makes sense. In order for the entire regular expression to match, all of the pieces must match. That’s why only the first line matches the example regex statement.

A handful of other common regex characters are useful when grepping text files. Remember just to mush them together to form the entire regular expression:

  • \ — the backslash negates the “special-ness” of special characters, which means you actually can search for them with regex. For example, \$ will search for the $ character, instead of looking for the end of a line.
  • \s — this construct means “whitespace”, which can be a space or spaces, tabs or newline characters. To find the word pickle surrounded by whitespace, you could search for \spickle\s, and that will find “pickle” but not “pickles”.
  • .* — this is really just a specific use of the asterisk, but it’s a very common combination, so I mention it here. It basically means “zero or more of any characters”, which is what was used in the corn/chicken example above.
  • | — this means “or” in regex. So hi|hello will match either “hi” or “hello”. It’s often used in parentheses to separate it from other parts of the regular expression. For example, (F|f)rankfurter will search for the word frankfurter, whether or not it’s capitalized.
  • [] — brackets are another way to specify “or” options, but they support ranges. So the regex [Ff]rankfurter is the same as the above example. Brackets support ranges though, so ^[A-Z] will match any line that starts with a capital letter. It also supports numbers, so [0-9]$ will match any line that ends in a digit.

Your Mission

You can do far more complicated things with regular expressions. These basic building blocks are usually enough to get the sort of text you need out of a log file. If you want to learn more, by all means, either do some googling on regex, or get a book explaining all the nitty-gritty goodness. If you want me to write more about it, drop a comment and let me know.

I really, really encourage you to practice using regex. The best way to learn is to do, so make a few text files and see if the regex statements you create give you the results you expect. Thankfully, grep highlights the “match” it finds in the line it returns. That means if you’re getting more results than you expect, you’ll see why the regex matched more than you expected, because grep will show you.

The most important thing to remember is that grep doesn’t do globbing—that wild-card stuff is for filenames on the shell only. Even if globbing with grep seems to work, it’s probably just coincidence (look back at the dog/dogs example here if you don’t know what I’m talking about). Have fun grepping!

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The Powers Family Christmas Eve Scavenger Hunt https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/05/the-powers-family-christmas-eve-scavenger-hunt/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/05/the-powers-family-christmas-eve-scavenger-hunt/#respond Thu, 05 Dec 2019 16:28:23 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2291 Every year, since our (now adult) girls were tiny, Donna and I have created a scavenger hunt for our kids on Christmas Eve. They follow clues, solve puzzles, and at the end, there’s a group gift/prize for them to enjoy together. It’s not our only family tradition, but it’s by far the biggest and most ... Read more

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Every year, since our (now adult) girls were tiny, Donna and I have created a scavenger hunt for our kids on Christmas Eve. They follow clues, solve puzzles, and at the end, there’s a group gift/prize for them to enjoy together. It’s not our only family tradition, but it’s by far the biggest and most consistent one we have. Since we’ve started livestreaming the shenanigans every December 24th, we’ve gotten quite a few inquiries about how we do it.

This is the answer, in the form of recommendations if you want to do your own version.

Make it easy to set up, or it won’t be a tradition, it’ll be a single fun memory.

Donna and I don’t usually prepare weeks or even days in advance. Some years, we’ve created clues on the fly, while the girls are doing the hunt. We want it to be a tradition, not a burden. We used to have a tradition of making a Christmas Star together every year. But it turns out that can be difficult to do, and the tradition fizzled. We’ve NEVER missed a year with our scavenger hunt, because we never let it become a burden. It’s truly not about how clever your clues are, or how many people are involved. It’s about doing silly things together, and even the lamest years have been a ton of fun.

Remember WHY you’re doing it.

Our goal has always been for our girls to have fun with each other. We’re not trying to stump them. There aren’t teams competing. They aren’t competing against each other. They’re just having fun working together. The final clue/solution is always something we can do together as a family afterward. Some years it’s a video game. Some years it’s a board game. Some years it’s a movie. It’s impossible to “lose” at the scavenger hunt, and if a clue is too challenging, we’ll totally help and give more clues, because it’s not about challenging the girls. It’s about the girls having fun TOGETHER.

Include everyone.

This isn’t something we have to remind our girls of anymore. They know it’s about everyone having fun, so they go out of their way to include each other and anyone else that might be with them that year. But at the beginning, or especially if your group is varied in age — make a point to include everyone. Something too hard for little Johnny? Let him hold the video camera while Suzy climbs the fence, etc, etc.

Consider your participants’ ages.

Our girls are fairly close in age. When they were young, the scavenger hunt was an indoor event. When they got older, they’d have to go into the yard or on the Internet. (See a clue from 2010: https://youtu.be/KfCDJv7ZXds ) Some years there are friend and/or relatives that go with the girls, and we make sure to consider their ages and abilities while designing the clues.

Now? The girls are all adults, and clues will take them around town and even to other towns. They’ll drive a half hour one way to get a picture with a street sign. And they’ll laugh together the WHOLE time. It’s seriously magical, and allowing friends, etc, join in has never been a problem. We play the scavenger hunt fast and loose, and that means it’s very flexible and age inclusive.

Consider video streaming publicly or privately.

Now that video streaming technology is possible with mobile devices, it has made the entire experience more fun and inclusive. Perhaps you’ve seen the livestream. It’s silly, it’s fun, and holding the phone/camera is something someone can do. If you don’t want to livestream, consider facetime.

How we actually do it now:

We take full advantage of technology. The girls have a phone livestreaming the whole time, for our enjoyment at home (Donna and I stay home). The actual clue/solution goes something like this:

  1. We text them a clue. “I’m downtown, but my phone died, and I’m not wearing a watch. How will I know what time it is?!??!”
  2. They figure out what we’re hinting at, and pile into a car together and drive (safely!) downtown. They get to the clock on main street, and take a photo of themselves in front of the clock.
  3. They text the photo to our family group text, and if they’re correct, they get sent the next clue.
  4. If they happen to go to the waterfront and get a photo in front of THAT clock, we’ll respond with something like, “when I’m downtown, I can’t see that clock…” — and they’ll figure out what we actually meant, and drive to the clock downtown and try again.
  5. Or, we’ll decide their solution was better than what we meant anyway, and pretend we meant the clock by the waterfront after all, and send them the next clue. 🙂

Sometimes, we’ll think ahead enough to have some jigsaw puzzles, which we put into an envelope and send with them. In which case, one of the clues they’ll receive via text is, “Open Envelope #2” — then they’ll follow the instructions inside the envelope.

Some of the clues involve them doing things like, “Open envelope #3, and use the $15 inside to buy hot cocoa from the bookstore, and get a stranger to take your photo” — then they send the photo to us to get the next clue.

We usually make them do some (slightly) embarrassing things, like going into a store and having one (or more) of them sing a Christmas Carol out loud while recording. They send the video to us, and we send the next clue/challenge.

Since it’s Christmas Eve, there’s usually a “build a snowman” challenge, which they need to accomplish and then take a photo and send it to us.

We’ll call a family/friend and make sure they’re home, then have a clue that has them go to XXX’s house and sing them “we wish you a Merry Christmas” while recording it, and we have the person give them the next clue (which we tell them when we call them, sometimes in advance, sometimes just before sending the clue, because we don’t prepare well, LOL)

End with some group fun.

Every “Just Dance” video game we own was the result of a scavenger hunt. We’ve had the last clue lead to a bowling alley (I think… maybe not, perhaps that will be this year’s prize), we’ve ended with video games, DVDs, etc, etc.

My biggest advice is to keep it simple. My girls rarely remember the clues or even the prizes at the end. They remember the fun they had doing silly, simple things together. They remember singing together in the car at the top of their lungs between clues. They remember anticipating the scavenger hunt. They tell their friends how awesome the tradition is, even if when they explain it, it doesn’t sound amazing. It’s far more about doing silly things together than the silly things themselves. 🙂

Good luck, and I hope your version is as much fun for your family as ours is for us!!!

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Ansible Part 4: Putting it All Together https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-4-putting-it-all-together/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-4-putting-it-all-together/#respond Tue, 03 Dec 2019 20:28:00 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2281 Roles are the most complicated and yet simplest aspect of Ansible to learn. I’ve mentioned before that Ansible’s ad-hoc mode often is overlooked as just a way to learn how to use Ansible. I couldn’t disagree with that mentality any more fervently than I already do. Ad-hoc mode is actually what I tend to use ... Read more

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Roles are the most complicated and yet simplest aspect of Ansible to learn.

I’ve mentioned before that Ansible’s ad-hoc mode often is overlooked as just a way to learn how to use Ansible. I couldn’t disagree with that mentality any more fervently than I already do. Ad-hoc mode is actually what I tend to use most often on a day-to-day basis. That said, using playbooks and roles are very powerful ways to utilize Ansible’s abilities. In fact, when most people think of Ansible, they tend to think of the roles feature, because it’s the way most Ansible code is shared. So first, it’s important to understand the relationship between ad-hoc mode, playbooks and roles.

Ad-hoc Mode

This is a bit of a review, but it’s easy to forget once you start creating playbooks. Ad-hoc mode is simply a one-liner that uses an Ansible module to accomplish a given task on a set of computers. Something like:


ansible cadlab -b -m yum -a "name=vim state=latest"

will install vim on every computer in the cadlab group. The -b signals to elevate privilege (“become” root), the -m means to use the yum module, and the -a says what actions to take. In this case, it’s installing the latest version of vim.

Usually when I use ad-hoc mode to install packages, I’ll follow up with something like this:


ansible cadlab -b -m service -a "name=httpd state=started
 ↪enabled=yes"

That one-liner will make sure that the httpd service is running and set to start on boot automatically (the latter is what “enabled” means). Like I said at the beginning, I most often use Ansible’s ad-hoc mode on a day-to-day basis. When a new rollout or upgrade needs to happen though, that’s when it makes sense to create a playbook, which is a text file that contains a bunch of Ansible commands.

Playbook Mode

I described playbooks in my last article. They are YAML- (Yet Another Markup Language) formatted text files that contain a list of things for Ansible to accomplish. For example, to install Apache on a lab full of computers, you’d create a file something like this:


---

- hosts: cadlab
  tasks:
  - name: install apache2 on CentOS
    yum: name=httpd state=latest
    notify: start httpd
    ignore_errors: yes

  - name: install apache2 on Ubuntu
    apt: update_cache=yes name=apache2 state=latest
    notify: start apache2
    ignore_errors: yes

  handlers:
  - name: start httpd
    service: name=httpd enable=yes state=started

  - name: start apache2
    service: name=apache2 enable=yes state=started

Mind you, this isn’t the most elegant playbook. It contains a single play that tries to install httpd with yum and apache2 with apt. If the lab is a mix of CentOS and Ubuntu machines, one or the other of the installation methods will fail. That’s why the ignore_errors command is in each task. Otherwise, Ansible would quit when it encountered an error. Again, this method works, but it’s not pretty. It would be much better to create conditional statements that would allow for a graceful exit on incompatible platforms. In fact, playbooks that are more complex and do more things tend to evolve into a “role” in Ansible.

Roles

Roles aren’t really a mode of operation. Actually, roles are an integral part of playbooks. Just like a playbook can have tasks, variables and handlers, they can also have roles. Quite simply, roles are just a way to organize the various components referenced in playbooks. It starts with a folder layout:


roles/
  webserver/
    tasks/
      main.yml
    handlers/
      main.yml
    vars/
      main.yml
    templates/
      index.html.j2
      httpd.conf.j2
    files/
      ntp.conf

Ansible looks for a roles folder in the current directory, but also in a system-wide location like /etc/ansible/roles, so you can store your roles to keep them organized and out of your home folder. The advantage of using roles is that your playbooks can look as simple as this:


---

- hosts: cadlab
  roles:
    - webserver

And then the “webserver” role will be applied to the group “cadlab” without needing to type any more information inside your playbook. When a role is specified, Ansible looks for a folder matching the name “webserver” inside your roles folder (in the current directory or the system-wide directory). It then will execute the tasks inside webserver/tasks/main.yml. Any handlers mentioned in that playbook will be searched for automatically in webserver/handlers/main.yml. Also, any time files are referenced by a template module or file/copy module, the path doesn’t need to be specified. Ansible automatically will look inside webserver/files/ or /webserver/templates/ for the files.

Basically, using roles will save you lots of path declarations and include statements. That might seem like a simple thing, but the organization creates a standard that not only makes it easy to figure out what a role does, but also makes it easy to share your code with others. If you always know any files must be stored in roles/rolename/files/, it means you can share a “role” with others and they’ll know exactly what to do with it—namely, just plop it in their own roles folder and start using it.

Sharing Roles: Ansible Galaxy

One of the best aspects of current DevOps tools like Chef, Puppet and Ansible is that there is a community of people willing to share their hard work. On a small scale, roles are a great way to share with your coworkers, especially if you have roles that are customized specifically for your environment. Since many of environments are similar, roles can be shared with an even wider audience—and that’s where Ansible Galaxy comes into play.

I’ll be honest, part of the draw for me with Ansible is the sci-fi theme in the naming convention. I know I’m a bit silly in that regard, but just naming something Ansible or Ansible Galaxy gets my attention. This might be one of those “built by nerds, for nerds” sort of things. I’m completely okay with that. If you head over to the Galaxy site, you’ll find the online repository for shared roles—and there are a ton.

For simply downloading and using other people’s roles, you don’t need any sort of account on Ansible Galaxy. You can search on the website by going to Galaxy and clicking “Browse Roles” on the left side of the page (Figure 1). There are more than 13,000 roles currently uploaded to Ansible Galaxy, so I highly recommend taking advantage of the search feature! In Figure 2, you’ll see I’ve searched for “apache” and sorted by “downloads” in order to find the most popular roles.

Figure 1. Click that link to browse and search for roles.

Figure 2. Jeff Geerling’s roles are always worth checking out.

Many of the standard roles you’ll find that are very popular are written by Jeff Geerling, whose user name is geerlingguy. He’s an Ansible developer who has written at least one Ansible book that I’ve read and possibly others. He shares his roles, and I encourage you to check them out—not only for using them, but also for seeing how he codes around issues like conditionally choosing the correct module for a given distribution and things like that. You can click on the role name and see all the code involved. You might notice that if you want to examine the code, you need to click on the GitHub link. That’s one of the genius moves of Ansible Galaxy—all roles are stored on a user’s GitHub page as opposed to an Ansible Galaxy server. Since most developers keep their code on GitHub, they don’t need to remember to upload to Ansible Galaxy as well.

Incidentally, if you ever desire to share your own Ansible roles, you’ll need to use a GitHub user name to upload them, because again, roles are all stored on GitHub. But that’s getting ahead of things; first you need to learn how to use roles in your environment.

Using ansible-galaxy to Install Roles

It’s certainly possible to download an entire repository and then unzip the contents into your roles folder. Since they’re just text files and structured folders, there’s not really anything wrong with doing it that way. It’s just far less convenient than using the tools built in to Ansible.

There is a search mechanism on the Ansible command line for searching the Ansible Galaxy site, but in order to find a role I want to use, I generally go to the website and find it, then use the command-line tools to download and install it. Here’s an example of Jeff Geerling’s “apache” role. In order to use Ansible to download a role, you need to do this:


sudo ansible-galaxy install geerlingguy.apache

Notice two things. First, you need to execute this command with root privilege. That’s because the ansible-galaxy command will install roles in your system-wide roles folder, which isn’t writable (by default) by your regular user account. Second, take note of the format of roles named on Ansible Galaxy. The format is username.rolename, so in this case, geerlingguy.apache, which is also how you reference the role inside your playbooks.

If you want to see roles listed with the correct format, you can use ansible-galaxy‘s search command, but like I said, I find it less than useful because it doesn’t sort by popularity. In fact, I can’t figure out what it sorts by at all. The only time I use the command-line search feature is if I also use grep to narrow down roles by a single person. Anyway, Figure 3 shows what the results of ansible-galaxy search look like. Notice the username.rolename format.

Figure 3. I love the command line, but these search results are frustrating.

Once you install a role, it is immediately available for you to use in your own playbooks, because it’s installed in the system-wide roles folder. In my case, that’s /etc/ansible/roles (Figure 4). So now, if I create a playbook like this:


---
- hosts: cadlab
  roles:
    - geerlingguy.apache

Apache will be installed on all my cadlab computers, regardless of what distribution they’re using. If you want to see how the role (which is just a bunch of tasks, handlers and so forth) works, just pick through the folder structure inside /etc/ansible/roles/geerlingguy.apache/. It’s all right there for you to use or modify.

Figure 4. Easy Peasy, Lemon Squeezy

Creating Your Own Roles

There’s really no magic here, since you easily can create a roles folder and then create your own roles manually inside it, but ansible-galaxy does give you a shortcut by creating a skeleton role for you. Make sure you have a roles folder, then just type:


ansible-galaxy init roles/rolename

and you’ll end up with a nicely created folder structure for your new role. It doesn’t do anything magical, but as someone who has misspelled “Templates” before, I can tell you it will save you a lot of frustration if you have clumsy fingers like me.

Sharing Your Roles

If you get to the point where you want to share you roles on Ansible Galaxy, it’s fairly easy to do. Make sure you have your role on GitHub (using git is beyond the scope of this article, but using git and GitHub is a great way to keep track of your code anyway). Once you have your roles on GitHub, you can use ansible-galaxy to “import” them into the publicly searchable Ansible Galaxy site. You first need to authenticate:


ansible-galaxy login

Before you try to log in with the command-line tool, be sure you’ve visited the Ansible Galaxy website and logged in with your GitHub account. You can see in Figure 5 that at first I was unable to log in. Then I logged in on the website, and after that, I was able to log in with the command-line tool successfully.

Figure 5. It drove me nuts trying to figure out why I couldn’t authenticate.

Once you’re logged in, you can add your role by typing:


ansible-galaxy import githubusername githubreponame

The process takes a while, so you can add the -no-wait option if you want, and the role will be imported in the background. I really don’t recommend doing this until you have created roles worth sharing. Keep in mind, there are more than 13,000 roles on Ansible Galaxy, so there are many “re-inventions of the wheel” happening.

From Here?

Well, it’s taken me four articles, but I think if you’ve been following along, you should be to the point where you can take it from here. Playbooks and roles are usually where people focus their attention in Ansible, but I also encourage you to take advantage of ad-hoc mode for day-to-day maintenance tasks. Ansible in some ways is just another DevOps configuration management tool, but for me, it feels the most like the traditional problem-solving solution that I used Bash scripts to accomplish for decades. Perhaps I just like Ansible because it thinks the same way I do. Regardless of your motivation, I encourage you to learn Ansible enough so you can determine whether it fits into your workflow as well as it fits into mine.

If you’d like more direct training on Ansible (and other stuff) from yours truly, visit me at my DayJob as a trainer for CBT Nuggets. You can get a full week free if you head over to https://cbt.gg/shawnp0wers and sign up for a trial!

The 4 Part Series on Ansible includes:
Part 1 – DevOps for the Non-Dev
Part 2 – Making Things Happen
Part 3 – Playbooks
Part 4 – Putting it All Together

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Ansible Part 3: Playbooks https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-3-playbooks/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-3-playbooks/#respond Tue, 03 Dec 2019 20:25:00 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2279 Playbooks make Ansible even more powerful than before. To be quite honest, if Ansible had nothing but its ad-hoc mode, it still would be a powerful and useful tool for automating large numbers of computers. In fact, if it weren’t for a few features, I might consider sticking with ad-hoc mode and adding a bunch ... Read more

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Playbooks make Ansible even more powerful than before.

To be quite honest, if Ansible had nothing but its ad-hoc mode, it still would be a powerful and useful tool for automating large numbers of computers. In fact, if it weren’t for a few features, I might consider sticking with ad-hoc mode and adding a bunch of those ad-hoc commands to a Bash script and be done with learning. Those few additional features, however, make the continued effort well worth it.

Tame the Beast with YAML

Ansible goes out of its way to use an easy-to-read configuration file for making “playbooks”, which are files full of separate Ansible “tasks”. A task is basically an ad-hoc command written out in a configuration file that makes it more organized and easy to expand. The configuration files use YAML, which stands for “Yet Another Markup Language”. It’s an easy-to-read markup language, but it does rely on whitespace, which isn’t terribly common with most config files. A simple playbook looks something like this:


---

- hosts: webservers
  become: yes
  tasks:
    - name: this installs a package
      apt: name=apache2 update_cache=yes state=latest

    - name: this restarts the apache service
      service: name=apache2 enabled=yes state=restarted

The contents should be fairly easy to identify. It’s basically two ad-hoc commands broken up into a YAML configuration file. There are a few important things to notice. First, every filename ends with .yaml, and every YAML file must begin with three hyphen characters. Also, as mentioned above, whitespace matters. Finally, when a hyphen should precede a section and when it should just be spaced appropriately often is confusing. Basically every new section needs to start with a – symbol, but it’s often hard to tell what should be its own section. Nevertheless, it starts to feel natural as you create more and more playbooks.

The above playbook would be executed by typing:


ansible-playbook filename.yaml

And that is the equivalent of these two commands:


ansible webservers -b -m apt -a "name=apache2
 ↪update_cache=yes state=latest"
ansible webservers -b -m service -a "name=apache2
 ↪enabled=yes state=restarted"

Handling Your Handlers

But a bit of organization is really only the beginning of why playbooks are so powerful. First off, there’s the idea of “Handlers”, which are tasks that are executed only when “notified” that a task has made a change. How does that work exactly? Let’s rewrite the above YAML file to make the second task a handler:


---

- hosts: webservers
  become: yes
  tasks:
    - name: this installs a package
      apt: name=apache2 update_cache=yes state=latest
      notify: enable apache

  handlers:
    - name: enable apache
      service: name=apache2 enabled=yes state=started

On the surface, this looks very similar to just executing multiple tasks. When the first task (installing Apache) executes, if a change is made, it notifies the “enable apache” handler, which makes sure Apache is enabled on boot and currently running. The significance is that if Apache is already installed, and no changes are made, the handler never is called. That makes the code much more efficient, but it also means no unnecessary interruption of the already running Apache process.

There are other subtle time-saving issues with handlers too—for example, multiple tasks can call a handler, but it executes only a single time regardless of how many times it’s called. But the really significant thing to remember is that handlers are executed (notified) only when an Ansible task makes a change on the remote system.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

Variable substitution works quite simply inside a playbook. Here’s a simple example:


---

- hosts: webservers
  become: yes
  vars:
    package_name: apache2
  tasks:
    - name: this installs a package
      apt: "name={{ package_name }} update_cache=yes state=latest"
      notify: enable apache

  handlers:
    - name: enable apache
      service: "name={{ package_name }} enabled=yes state=started"

It should be fairly easy to understand what’s happening above. Note that I did put the entire module action section in quotes. It’s not always required, but sometimes Ansible is funny about unquoted variable substitutions, so I always try to put things in quotes when variables are involved.

The really interesting thing about variables, however, are the “Gathered Facts” about every host. You might notice when executing a playbook that the first thing Ansible does is “Gathering Facts…”, which completes without error, but doesn’t actually seem to do anything. What’s really happening is that system information is getting populated into variables that can be used inside a playbook. To see the entire list of “Gathered Facts”, you can execute an ad-hoc command:


ansible webservers -m setup

You’ll get a huge list of facts generated from the individual hosts. Some of them are particularly useful. For example, ansible_os_family will return something like “RedHat” or “Debian” depending on which distribution you’re using. Ubuntu and Debian systems both return “Debian”, while Red Hat and CentOS will return “RedHat”. Although that’s certainly interesting information, it’s really useful when different distros use different tools—for example, apt vs. yum.

Getting Verbose

One of the frustrations of moving from Ansible ad-hoc commands to playbooks is that in playbook mode, Ansible tends to keep fairly quiet with regard to output. With ad-hoc mode, you often can see what is going on, but with a playbook, you know only if it finished okay, and if a change was made. There are two easy ways to change that. The first is just to add the -v flag when executing ansible-playbook. That adds verbosity and provides lots of feedback when things are executed. Unfortunately, it often gives so much information, that usefulness gets lost in the mix. Still, in a pinch, just adding the -v flag helps.

If you’re creating a playbook and want to be notified of things along the way, the debug module is really your friend. In ad-hoc mode, the debug module doesn’t make much sense to use, but in a playbook, it can act as a “reporting” tool about what is going on. For example:


---

- hosts: webservers
  tasks:
   - name: describe hosts
     debug: msg="Computer {{ ansible_hostname }} is running
      ↪{{ ansible_os_family }} or equivalent"

The above will show you something like Figure 1, which is incredibly useful when you’re trying to figure out the sort of systems you’re using. The nice thing about the debug module is that it can display anything you want, so if a value changes, you can have it displayed on the screen so you can troubleshoot a playbook that isn’t working like you expect it to work. It is important to note that the debug module doesn’t do anything other than display information on the screen for you. It’s not a logging system; rather, it’s just a way to have information (customized information, unlike the verbose flag) displayed during execution. Still, it can be invaluable as your playbooks become more complex.

Figure 1. Debug mode is the best way to get some information on what’s happening inside your playbooks.

If This Then That

Conditionals are a part of pretty much every programming language. Ansible YAML files also can take advantage of conditional execution, but the format is a little wacky. Normally the condition comes first, and then if it evaluates as true, the following code executes. With Ansible, it’s a little backward. The task is completely spelled out, then a when statement is added at the end. It makes the code very readable, but as someone who’s been using if/then mentality his entire career, it feels funny. Here’s a slightly more complicated playbook. See if you can parse out what would happen in an environment with both Debian/Ubuntu and Red Hat/CentOS systems:


---

- hosts: webservers
  become: yes
  tasks:
    - name: install apache this way
      apt: name=apache2 update_cache=yes state=latest
      notify: start apache2
      when: ansible_os_family == "Debian"

    - name: install apache that way
      yum: name=httpd state=latest
      notify: start httpd
      when: ansible_os_family == "RedHat"

  handlers:
    - name: start apache2
      service: name=apache2 enabled=yes state=started

    - name: start httpd
      service: name=httpd enabled=yes state=started

Hopefully the YAML format makes that fairly easy to read. Basically, it’s a playbook that will install Apache on hosts using either yum or apt based on which type of distro they have installed. Then handlers make sure the newly installed packages are enabled and running.

It’s easy to see how useful a combination of gathered facts and conditional statements can be. Thankfully, Ansible doesn’t stop there. As with other configuration management systems, it includes most features of programming and scripting languages. For example, there are loops.

Play It Again, Sam

If there is one thing Ansible does well, it’s loops. Quite frankly, it supports so many different sorts of loops, I can’t cover them all here. The best way to figure out the perfect sort of loop for your situation is to read the Ansible documentation directly.

For simple lists, playbooks use a familiar, easy-to-read method for doing multiple tasks. For example:


---

- hosts: webservers
  become: yes

  tasks:
    - name: install a bunch of stuff
      apt: "name={{ item }} state=latest update_cache=yes"
      with_items:
        - apache2
        - vim
        - chromium-browser

This simple playbook will install multiple packages using the apt module. Note the special variable named item, which is replaced with the items one at a time in the with_items section. Again, this is pretty easy to understand and utilize in your own playbooks. Other loops work in similar ways, but they’re formatted differently. Just check out the documentation for the wide variety of ways Ansible can repeat similar tasks.

Templates

One last module I find myself using often is the template module. If you’ve ever used mail merge in a word processor, templating works similarly. Basically, you create a text file and then use variable substitution to create a custom version on the fly. I most often do this for creating HTML files or config files. Ansible uses the Jinja2 templating language, which is conveniently similar to standard variable substitution in playbooks themselves. The example I almost always use is a custom HTML file that can be installed on a remote batch of web servers. Let’s look at a fairly complex playbook and an accompanying HTML template file.

Here’s the playbook:


---

- hosts: webservers
  become: yes

  tasks:
   - name: install apache2
     apt: name=apache2 state=latest update_cache=yes
     when: ansible_os_family == "Debian"

   - name: install httpd
     yum: name=httpd state=latest
     when: ansible_os_family == "RedHat"

   - name: start apache2
     service: name=apache2 state=started enable=yes
     when: ansible_os_family == "Debian"

   - name: start httpd
     service: name=httpd state=started enable=yes
     when: ansible_os_family == "RedHat

   - name: install index
     template:
       src: index.html.j2
       dest: /var/www/html/index.html

Here’s the template file, which must end in .j2 (it’s the file referenced in the last task above):


<html><center>
<h1>This computer is running {{ ansible_os_family }},
and its hostname is:</h1>
<h3>{{ ansible_hostname }}</h3>
{# this is a comment, which won't be copied to the index.html file #}
</center></html>

This also should be fairly easy to understand. The playbook takes a few different things it learned and installs Apache on the remote systems, regardless of whether they are Red Hat- or Debian-based. Then, it starts the web servers and makes sure the web server starts on system boot. Finally, the playbook takes the template file, index.html.j2, and substitutes the variables while copying the file to the remote system. Note the {# #} format for making comments. Those comments are completely erased on the remote system and are visible only in the .j2 file on the Ansible machine.

The Sky Is the Limit!

I’ll finish up this series in my next article, where I plan to cover how to build on your playbook knowledge to create entire roles and take advantage of the community contributions available. Ansible is a very powerful tool that is surprisingly simple to understand and use. If you’ve been experimenting with ad-hoc commands, I encourage you to create playbooks that will allow you to do multiple tasks on a multitude of computers with minimal effort. At the very least, play around with the “Facts” gathered by the ansible-playbook app, because those are things unavailable to the ad-hoc mode of Ansible. Until next time, learn, experiment, play and have fun!

If you’d like more direct training on Ansible (and other stuff) from yours truly, visit me at my DayJob as a trainer for CBT Nuggets. You can get a full week free if you head over to https://cbt.gg/shawnp0wers and sign up for a trial!

The 4 Part Series on Ansible includes:
Part 1 – DevOps for the Non-Dev
Part 2 – Making Things Happen
Part 3 – Playbooks
Part 4 – Putting it All Together

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Ansible Part 2: Making Things Happen https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-2-making-things-happen/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-2-making-things-happen/#respond Tue, 03 Dec 2019 18:53:00 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2275 Finally, an automation framework that thinks like a sysadmin. Ansible, you’re hired. In my last article, I described how to configure your server and clients so you could connect to each client from the server. Ansible is a push-based automation tool, so the connection is initiated from your “server”, which is usually just a workstation or ... Read more

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Finally, an automation framework that thinks like a sysadmin. Ansible, you’re hired.

In my last article, I described how to configure your server and clients so you could connect to each client from the server. Ansible is a push-based automation tool, so the connection is initiated from your “server”, which is usually just a workstation or a server you ssh in to from your workstation. In this article, I explain how modules work and how you can use Ansible in ad-hoc mode from the command line.

Ansible is supposed to make your job easier, so the first thing you need to learn is how to do familiar tasks. For most sysadmins, that means some simple command-line work. Ansible has a few quirks when it comes to command-line utilities, but it’s worth learning the nuances, because it makes for a powerful system.

Command Module

This is the safest module to execute remote commands on the client machine. As with most Ansible modules, it requires Python to be installed on the client, but that’s it. When Ansible executes commands using the Command Module, it does not process those commands through the user’s shell. This means some variables like $HOME are not available. It also means stream functions (redirects, pipes) don’t work. If you don’t need to redirect output or to reference the user’s home directory as a shell variable, the Command Module is what you want to use. To invoke the Command Module in ad-hoc mode, do something like this:


ansible host_or_groupname -m command -a "whoami"

Your output should show SUCCESS for each host referenced and then return the user name that the user used to log in. You’ll notice that the user is not root, unless that’s the user you used to connect to the client computer.

If you want to see the elevated user, you’ll add another argument to the ansible command. You can add -b in order to “become” the elevated user (or the sudo user). So, if you were to run the same command as above with a “-b” flag:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m command -a "whoami"

you should see a similar result, but the whoami results should say root instead of the user you used to connect. That flag is important to use, especially if you try to run remote commands that require root access!

Shell Module

There’s nothing wrong with using the Shell Module to execute remote commands. It’s just important to know that since it uses the remote user’s environment, if there’s something goofy with the user’s account, it might cause problems that the Command Module avoids. If you use the Shell Module, however, you’re able to use redirects and pipes. You can use the whoami example to see the difference. This command:


ansible host_or_groupname -m command -a "whoami > myname.txt"

should result in an error about > not being a valid argument. Since the Command Module doesn’t run inside any shell, it interprets the greater-than character as something you’re trying to pass to the whoami command. If you use the Shell Module, however, you have no problems:


ansible host_or_groupname -m shell -a "whom > myname.txt"

This should execute and give you a SUCCESS message for each host, but there should be nothing returned as output. On the remote machine, however, there should be a file called myname.txt in the user’s home directory that contains the name of the user. My personal policy is to use the Command Module whenever possible and to use the Shell Module if needed.

The Raw Module

Functionally, the Raw Module works like the Shell Module. The key difference is that Ansible doesn’t do any error checking, and STDERRSTDOUT and Return Code is returned. Other than that, Ansible has no idea what happens, because it just executes the command over SSH directly. So while the Shell Module will use /bin/sh by default, the Raw Module just uses whatever the user’s personal default shell might be.

Why would a person decide to use the Raw Module? It doesn’t require Python on the remote computer—at all. Although it’s true that most servers have Python installed by default, or easily could have it installed, many embedded devices don’t and can’t have Python installed. For most configuration management tools, not having an agent program installed means the remote device can’t be managed. With Ansible, if all you have is SSH, you still can execute remote commands using the Raw Module. I’ve used the Raw Module to manage Bitcoin miners that have a very minimal embedded environment. It’s a powerful tool, and when you need it, it’s invaluable!

Copy Module

Although it’s certainly possible to do file and folder manipulation with the Command and Shell Modules, Ansible includes a module specifically for copying files to the server. Even though it requires learning a new syntax for copying files, I like to use it because Ansible will check to see whether a file exists, and whether it’s the same file. That means it copies the file only if it needs to, saving time and bandwidth. It even will make backups of existing files! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve used scp and sshpass in a Bash FOR loop and dumped files on servers, even if they didn’t need them. Ansible makes it easy and doesn’t require FOR loops and IP iterations.

The syntax is a little more complicated than with Command, Shell or Raw. Thankfully, as with most things in the Ansible world, it’s easy to understand—for example:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m copy \
    -a "src=./updated.conf dest=/etc/ntp.conf \
        owner=root group=root mode=0644 backup=yes"

This will look in the current directory (on the Ansible server/workstation) for a file called updated.conf and then copy it to each host. On the remote system, the file will be put in /etc/ntp.conf, and if a file already exists, and it’s different, the original will be backed up with a date extension. If the files are the same, Ansible won’t make any changes.

I tend to use the Copy Module when updating configuration files. It would be perfect for updating configuration files on Bitcoin miners, but unfortunately, the Copy Module does require that the remote machine has Python installed. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to update common files on many remote machines with one simple command. It’s also important to note that the Copy Module supports copying remote files to other locations on the remote filesystem using the remote_src=true directive.

File Module

The File Module has a lot in common with the Copy Module, but if you try to use the File Module to copy a file, it doesn’t work as expected. The File Module does all its actions on the remote machine, so src and dest are all references to the remote filesystem. The File Module often is used for creating directories, creating links or deleting remote files and folders. The following will simply create a folder named /etc/newfolder on the remote servers and set the mode:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m file \
       -a "path=/etc/newfolder state=directory mode=0755"

You can, of course, set the owner and group, along with a bunch of other options, which you can learn about on the Ansible doc site. I find I most often will either create a folder or symbolically link a file using the File Module. To create a symlink:


sensible host_or_groupname -b -m file \
         -a "src=/etc/ntp.conf dest=/home/user/ntp.conf \
             owner=user group=user state=link"

Notice that the state directive is how you inform Ansible what you actually want to do. There are several state options:

  • link — create symlink.
  • directory — create directory.
  • hard — create hardlink.
  • touch — create empty file.
  • absent — delete file or directory recursively.

This might seem a bit complicated, especially when you easily could do the same with a Command or Shell Module command, but the clarity of using the appropriate module makes it more difficult to make mistakes. Plus, learning these commands in ad-hoc mode will make playbooks, which consist of many commands, easier to understand (I plan to cover this in my next article).

File Management

Anyone who manages multiple distributions knows it can be tricky to handle the various package managers. Ansible handles this in a couple ways. There are specific modules for apt and yum, but there’s also a generic module called “package” that will install on the remote computer regardless of whether it’s Red Hat- or Debian/Ubuntu-based.

Unfortunately, while Ansible usually can detect the type of package manager it needs to use, it doesn’t have a way to fix packages with different names. One prime example is Apache. On Red Hat-based systems, the package is “httpd”, but on Debian/Ubuntu systems, it’s “apache2”. That means some more complex things need to happen in order to install the correct package automatically. The individual modules, however, are very easy to use. I find myself just using apt or yum as appropriate, just like when I manually manage servers. Here’s an apt example:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m apt \
          -a "update_cache=yes name=apache2 state=latest"

With this one simple line, all the host machines will run apt-get update (that’s the update_cache directive at work), then install apache2’s latest version including any dependencies required. Much like the File Module, the state directive has a few options:

  • latest — get the latest version, upgrading existing if needed.
  • absent — remove package if installed.
  • present — make sure package is installed, but don’t upgrade existing.

The Yum Module works similarly to the Apt Module, but I generally don’t bother with the update_cache directive, because yum updates automatically. Although very similar, installing Apache on a Red Hat-based system looks like this:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m yum \
      -a "name=httpd state=present"

The difference with this example is that if Apache is already installed, it won’t update, even if an update is available. Sometimes updating to the latest version isn’t want you want, so this stops that from accidentally happening.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

One frustrating thing about using Ansible in ad-hoc mode is that you don’t have access to the “facts” about the remote systems. In my next article, where I plan to explore creating playbooks full of various tasks, you’ll see how you can reference the facts Ansible learns about the systems. It makes Ansible far more powerful, but again, it can be utilized only in playbook mode. Nevertheless, it’s possible to use ad-hoc mode to peek at the sorts information Ansible gathers. If you run the setup module, it will show you all the details from a remote system:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m setup

That command will spew a ton of variables on your screen. You can scroll through them all to see the vast amount of information Ansible pulls from the host machines. In fact, it shows so much information, it can be overwhelming. You can filter the results:


ansible host_or_groupname -b -m setup -a "filter=*family*"

That should just return a single variable, ansible_os_family, which likely will be Debian or Red Hat. When you start building more complex Ansible setups with playbooks, it’s possible to insert some logic and conditionals in order to use yum where appropriate and apt where the system is Debian-based. Really, the facts variables are incredibly useful and make building playbooks that much more exciting.

But, that’s for another article, because you’ve come to the end of the second installment. Your assignment for now is to get comfortable using Ansible in ad-hoc mode, doing one thing at a time. Most people think ad-hoc mode is just a stepping stone to more complex Ansible setups, but I disagree. The ability to configure hundreds of servers consistently and reliably with a single command is nothing to scoff at. I love making elaborate playbooks, but just as often, I’ll use an ad-hoc command in a situation that used to require me to ssh in to a bunch of servers to do simple tasks. Have fun with Ansible; it just gets more interesting from here!

If you’d like more direct training on Ansible (and other stuff) from yours truly, visit me at my DayJob as a trainer for CBT Nuggets. You can get a full week free if you head over to https://cbt.gg/shawnp0wers and sign up for a trial!

The 4 Part Series on Ansible includes:
Part 1 – DevOps for the Non-Dev
Part 2 – Making Things Happen
Part 3 – Playbooks
Part 4 – Putting it All Together

The post Ansible Part 2: Making Things Happen appeared first on The Brain of Shawn.

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Ansible Part 1: DevOps for the Non-Dev https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-1-devops-for-the-non-dev/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/12/03/ansible-part-1-devops-for-the-non-dev/#respond Tue, 03 Dec 2019 16:19:00 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2271 I’ve written about and trained folks on various DevOps tools through the years, and although they’re awesome, it’s obvious that most of them are designed from the mind of a developer. There’s nothing wrong with that, because approaching configuration management programmatically is the whole point. Still, it wasn’t until I started playing with Ansible that ... Read more

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I’ve written about and trained folks on various DevOps tools through the years, and although they’re awesome, it’s obvious that most of them are designed from the mind of a developer. There’s nothing wrong with that, because approaching configuration management programmatically is the whole point. Still, it wasn’t until I started playing with Ansible that I felt like it was something a sysadmin quickly would appreciate.

Part of that appreciation comes from the way Ansible communicates with its client computers—namely, via SSH. As sysadmins, you’re all very familiar with connecting to computers via SSH, so right from the word “go”, you have a better understanding of Ansible than the other alternatives.

With that in mind, I’m planning to write a few articles exploring how to take advantage of Ansible. It’s a great system, but when I was first exposed to it, it wasn’t clear how to start. It’s not that the learning curve is steep. In fact, if anything, the problem was that I didn’t really have that much to learn before starting to use Ansible, and that made it confusing. For example, if you don’t have to install an agent program (Ansible doesn’t have any software installed on the client computers), how do you start?

Getting to the Starting Line

The reason Ansible was so difficult for me at first is because it’s so flexible with how to configure the server/client relationship, I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. The truth is that Ansible doesn’t really care how you set up the SSH system; it will utilize whatever configuration you have. There are just a couple things to consider:

  1. Ansible needs to connect to the client computer via SSH.
  2. Once connected, Ansible needs to elevate privilege so it can configure the system, install packages and so on.

Unfortunately, those two considerations really open a can of worms. Connecting to a remote computer and elevating privilege is a scary thing to allow. For some reason, it feels less vulnerable when you simply install an agent on the remote computer and let Chef or Puppet handle privilege escalation. It’s not that Ansible is any less secure, but rather, it puts the security decisions in your hands.

Next I’m going to list a bunch of potential configurations, along with the pros and cons of each. This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it should get you thinking along the right lines for what will be ideal in your environment. I also should note that I’m not going to mention systems like Vagrant, because although Vagrant is wonderful for building a quick infrastructure for testing and developing, it’s so very different from a bunch of servers that the considerations are too dissimilar really to compare.

Some SSH Scenarios

1) SSHing into remote computer as root with password in Ansible config.

I started with a terrible idea. The “pros” of this setup is that it eliminates the need for privilege escalation, and there are no other user accounts required on the remote server. But, the cost for such convenience isn’t worth it. First, most systems won’t let you SSH in as root without changing the default configuration. Those default configurations are there because, quite frankly, it’s just a bad idea to allow the root user to connect remotely. Second, putting a root password in a plain-text configuration file on the Ansible machine is mortifying. Really, I mentioned this possibility because it is a possibility, but it’s one that should be avoided. Remember, Ansible allows you to configure the connection yourself, and it will let you do really dumb things. Please don’t.

2) SSHing into a remote computer as a regular user, using a password stored in the Ansible config.

An advantage of this scenario is that it doesn’t require much configuration of the clients. Most users are able to SSH in by default, so Ansible should be able to use credentials and log in fine. I personally dislike the idea of a password being stored in plain text in a configuration file, but at least it isn’t the root password. If you use this method, be sure to consider how privilege escalation will take place on the remote server. I know I haven’t talked about escalating privilege yet, but if you have a password in the config file, that same password likely will be used to gain sudo access. So with one slip, you’ve compromised not only the remote user’s account, but also potentially the entire system.

3) SSHing into a remote computer as a regular user, authenticating with a key pair that has an empty passphrase.

This eliminates storing passwords in a configuration file, at least for the logging in part of the process. Key pairs without passphrases aren’t ideal, but it’s something I often do in an environment like my house. On my internal network, I typically use a key pair without a passphrase to automate many things like cron jobs that require authentication. This isn’t the most secure option, because a compromised private key means unrestricted access to the remote user’s account, but I like it better than a password in a config file.

4) SSHing into a remote computer as a regular user, authenticating with a key pair that is secured by a passphrase.

This is a very secure way of handling remote access, because it requires two different authentication factors: 1) the private key and 2) the passphrase to decrypt it. If you’re just running Ansible interactively, this might be the ideal setup. When you run a command, Ansible should prompt you for the private key’s passphrase, and then it’ll use the key pair to log in to the remote system. Yes, the same could be done by just using a standard password login and not specifying the password in the configuration file, but if you’re going to be typing a password on the command line anyway, why not add the layer of protection a key pair offers?

5) SSHing with a passphrase-protected key pair, but using ssh-agent to “unlock” the private key.

This doesn’t perfectly answer the question of unattended, automated Ansible commands, but it does make a fairly secure setup convenient as well. The ssh-agent program authenticates the passphrase one time and then uses that authentication to make future connections. When I’m using Ansible, this is what I think I’d like to be doing. If I’m completely honest, I still usually use key pairs without passphrases, but that’s typically because I’m working on my home servers, not something prone to attack.

There are some other considerations to keep in mind when configuring your SSH environment. Perhaps you’re able to restrict the Ansible user (which is often your local user name) so it can log in only from a specific IP address. Perhaps your Ansible server can live in a different subnet, behind a strong firewall so its private keys are more difficult to access remotely. Maybe the Ansible server doesn’t have an SSH server installed on itself so there’s no incoming access at all. Again, one of the strengths of Ansible is that it uses the SSH protocol for communication, and it’s a protocol you’ve all had years to tweak into a system that works best in your environment. I’m not a big fan of proclaiming what the “best practice” is, because in reality, the best practice is to consider your environment and choose the setup that fits your situation the best.

Privilege Escalation

Once your Ansible server connects to its clients via SSH, it needs to be able to escalate privilege. If you chose option 1 above, you’re already root, and this is a moot point. But since no one chose option 1 (right?), you need to consider how a regular user on the client computer gains access. Ansible supports a wide variety of escalation systems, but in Linux, the most common options are sudo and su. As with SSH, there are a few situations to consider, although there are certainly other options.

1) Escalate privilege with su.

For Red Hat/CentOS users, the instinct might be to use su in order to gain system access. By default, those systems configure the root password during install, and to gain privileged access, you need to type it in. The problem with using su is that although it gives you total access to the remote system, it also gives you total access to the remote system. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) Also, the su program doesn’t have the ability to authenticate with key pairs, so the password either must be interactively typed or stored in the configuration file. And since it’s literally the root password, storing it in the config file should sound like a horrible idea, because it is.

2) Escalate privilege with sudo.

This is how Debian/Ubuntu systems are configured. A user in the correct group has access to sudo a command and execute it with root privileges. Out of the box, this still has the problem of password storage or interactive typing. Since storing the user’s password in the configuration file seems a little less horrible, I guess this is a step up from using su, but it still gives complete access to a system if the password is compromised. (After all, typing sudo su - will allow users to become root just as if they had the root password.)

3) Escalate privilege with sudo and configure NOPASSWD in the sudoers file.

Again, in my local environment, this is what I do. It’s not perfect, because it gives unrestricted root access to the user account and doesn’t require any passwords. But when I do this, and use SSH key pairs without passphrases, it allows me to automate Ansible commands easily. I’ll note again, that although it is convenient, it is not a terribly secure idea.

4) Escalate privilege with sudo and configure NOPASSWD on specific executables.

This idea might be the best compromise of security and convenience. Basically, if you know what you plan to do with Ansible, you can give NOPASSWD privilege to the remote user for just those applications it will need to use. It might get a little confusing, since Ansible uses Python for lots of things, but with enough trial and error, you should be able to figure things out. It is more work, but does eliminate some of the glaring security holes.

Implementing Your Plan

Once you decide how you’re going to handle Ansible authentication and privilege escalation, you need to set it up. After you become well versed at Ansible, you might be able to use the tool itself to help “bootstrap” new clients, but at first, it’s important to configure clients manually so you know what’s happening. It’s far better to automate a process you’re familiar with than to start with automation from the beginning.

I’ve written about SSH key pairs in the past, and there are countless articles online for setting it up. The short version, from your Ansible computer, looks something like this:


# ssh-keygen
# ssh-copy-id -i .ssh/id_dsa.pub remoteuser@remote.computer.ip
# ssh remoteuser@remote.computer.ip

If you’ve chosen to use no passphrase when creating your key pairs, that last step should get you into the remote computer without typing a password or passphrase.

In order to set up privilege escalation in sudo, you’ll need to edit the sudoers file. You shouldn’t edit the file directly, but rather use:


# sudo visudo

This will open the sudoers file and allow you to make changes safely (it error-checks when you save, so you don’t accidentally lock yourself out with a typo). There are examples in the file, so you should be able to figure out how to assign the exact privileges you want.

Once it’s all configured, you should test it manually before bringing Ansible into the picture. Try SSHing to the remote client, and then try escalating privilege using whatever methods you’ve chosen. Once you have configured the way you’ll connect, it’s time to install Ansible.

Installing Ansible

Since the Ansible program gets installed only on the single computer, it’s not a big chore to get going. Red Hat/Ubuntu systems do package installs a bit differently, but neither is difficult.

In Red Hat/CentOS, first enable the EPEL repository:


sudo yum install epel-release

Then install Ansible:


sudo yum install ansible

In Ubuntu, first enable the Ansible PPA:


sudo apt-add-repository spa:ansible/ansible
(press ENTER to access the key and add the repo)

Then install Ansible:


sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ansible

Configuring Ansible Hosts File

The Ansible system has no way of knowing which clients you want it to control unless you give it a list of computers. That list is very simple, and it looks something like this:


# file /etc/ansible/hosts

[webservers]

blogserver ansible_host=192.168.1.5 wikiserver ansible_host=192.168.1.10

[dbservers]

mysql_1 ansible_host=192.168.1.22 pgsql_1 ansible_host=192.168.1.23

The bracketed sections are specifying groups. Individual hosts can be listed in multiple groups, and Ansible can refer either to individual hosts or groups. This is also the configuration file where things like plain-text passwords would be stored, if that’s the sort of setup you’ve planned. Each line in the configuration file configures a single host, and you can add multiple declarations after the ansible_host statement. Some useful options are:


ansible_ssh_pass
ansible_become
ansible_become_method
ansible_become_user
ansible_become_pass

The Ansible Vault

I also should note that although the setup is more complex, and not something you’ll likely do during your first foray into the world of Ansible, the program does offer a way to encrypt passwords in a vault. Once you’re familiar with Ansible and you want to put it into production, storing those passwords in an encrypted Ansible vault is ideal. But in the spirit of learning to crawl before you walk, I recommend starting in a non-production environment and using passwordless methods at first.

Testing Your System

Finally, you should test your system to make sure your clients are connecting. The ping test will make sure the Ansible computer can ping each host:


ansible -m ping all

After running, you should see a message for each defined host showing a ping: pong if the ping was successful. This doesn’t actually test authentication, just the network connectivity. Try this to test your authentication:


ansible -m shell -a 'uptime' webservers

You should see the results of the uptime command for each host in the webservers group.

In a future article, I plan start to dig in to Ansible’s ability to manage the remote computers. I’ll look at various modules and how you can use the ad-hoc mode to accomplish in a few keystrokes what would take a long time to handle individually on the command line. If you didn’t get the results you expected from the sample Ansible commands above, take this time to make sure authentication is working. Check out the Ansible docs for more help if you get stuck.

If you’d like more direct training on Ansible (and other stuff) from yours truly, visit me at my DayJob as a trainer for CBT Nuggets. You can get a full week free if you head over to https://cbt.gg/shawnp0wers and sign up for a trial!

The 4 Part Series on Ansible includes:
Part 1 – DevOps for the Non-Dev
Part 2 – Making Things Happen
Part 3 – Playbooks
Part 4 – Putting it All Together

The post Ansible Part 1: DevOps for the Non-Dev appeared first on The Brain of Shawn.

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Have a Plan for Netplan https://brainofshawn.com/2019/11/26/have-a-plan-for-netplan/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/11/26/have-a-plan-for-netplan/#respond Tue, 26 Nov 2019 16:26:29 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2263 Ubuntu changed networking. Embrace the YAML. If I’m being completely honest, I still dislike the switch from eth0, eth1, eth2 to names like, enp3s0, enp4s0, enp5s0. I’ve learned to accept it and mutter to myself while I type in unfamiliar interface names. Then I installed the new LTS version of Ubuntu and typed vi /etc/network/interfaces. Yikes. After a technological ... Read more

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Ubuntu changed networking. Embrace the YAML.

If I’m being completely honest, I still dislike the switch from eth0, eth1, eth2 to names like, enp3s0, enp4s0, enp5s0. I’ve learned to accept it and mutter to myself while I type in unfamiliar interface names. Then I installed the new LTS version of Ubuntu and typed vi /etc/network/interfaces. Yikes. After a technological lifetime of entering my server’s IP information in a simple text file, that’s no longer how things are done. Sigh. The good news is that while figuring out Netplan for both desktop and server environments, I fixed a nagging DNS issue I’ve had for years (more on that later).

The Basics of Netplan

The old way of configuring Debian-based network interfaces was based on the ifupdown package. The new default is called Netplan, and although it’s not terribly difficult to use, it’s drastically different. Netplan is sort of the interface used to configure the back-end dæmons that actually configure the interfaces. Right now, the back ends supported are NetworkManager and networkd.

If you tell Netplan to use NetworkManager, all interface configuration control is handed off to the GUI interface on the desktop. The NetworkManager program itself hasn’t changed; it’s the same GUI-based interface configuration system you’ve likely used for years.

If you tell Netplan to use networkd, systemd itself handles the interface configurations. Configuration is still done with Netplan files, but once “applied”, Netplan creates the back-end configurations systemd requires. The Netplan files are vastly different from the old /etc/network/interfaces file, but it uses YAML syntax, and it’s pretty easy to figure out.

The Desktop and DNS

If you install a GUI version of Ubuntu, Netplan is configured with NetworkManager as the back end by default. Your system should get IP information via DHCP or static entries you add via GUI. This is usually not an issue, but I’ve had a terrible time with my split-DNS setup and systemd-resolved. I’m sure there is a magical combination of configuration files that will make things work, but I’ve spent a lot of time, and it always behaves a little oddly. With my internal DNS server resolving domain names differently from external DNS servers (that is, split-DNS), I get random lookup failures. Sometimes ping will resolve, but dig will not. Sometimes the internal A record will resolve, but a CNAME will not. Sometimes I get resolution from an external DNS server (from the internet), even though I never configure anything other than the internal DNS!

I decided to disable systemd-resolved. That has the potential to break DNS lookups in a VPN, but I haven’t had an issue with that. With resolved handling DNS information, the /etc/resolv.conf file points to 127.0.0.53 as the nameserver. Disabling systemd-resolved will stop the automatic creation of the file. Thankfully, NetworkManager itself can handle the creation and modification of /etc/resolv.conf. Once I make that change, I no longer have an issue with split-DNS resolution. It’s a three-step process:

  1. Do sudo systemctl disable systemd-resolved.service.
  2. Then sudo rm /etc/resolv.conf (get rid of the symlink).
  3. Edit the /etc/NetworkManager/NetworkManager.conf file, and in the [main] section, add a line that reads DNS=default.

Once those steps are complete, NetworkManager itself will create the /etc/resolv.conf file, and the DNS server supplied via DHCP or static entry will be used instead of a 127.0.0.53 entry. I’m not sure why the resolved dæmon incorrectly resolves internal addresses for me, but the above method has been foolproof, even when switching between networks with my laptop.

Netplan CLI Configuration

If Ubuntu is installed in server mode, it is almost certainly configured to use networkd as the back end. To check, have a look at the /etc/netplan/config.yaml file. The renderer should be set to networkd in order to use the systemd-networkd back end. The file should look something like this:


network:
  version: 2
  renderer: networkd
  ethernets:
    enp2s0:
      dhcp4: true

Important note: remember that with YAML files, whitespace matters, so the indentation is important. It’s also very important to remember that after making any changes, you need to run sudo netplan apply so the back-end configuration files are populated.

The default renderer is networkd, so it’s possible you won’t have that line in your configuration file. It’s also possible your configuration file will be named something different in the /etc/netplan folder. All .conf files are read, so it doesn’t matter what it’s called as long as it ends with .conf. Static configurations are fairly simple to set up:


network:
  version: 2
  renderer: networkd
  ethernets:
    enp2s0:
      dhcp4: no
      addresses:
        - 192.168.1.10/24
        - 10.10.10.10/16
      gateway4: 192.168.1.1
      nameservers:
        addresses: [192.168.1.1, 8.8.8.8]

Notice I’ve assigned multiple IP addresses to the interface. Netplan does not support virtual interfaces like enp3s0:0, rather multiple IP addresses can be assigned to a single interface.

Unfortunately, networkd doesn’t create an /etc/resolv.conf file if you disable the resolved dæmon. If you have problems with split-DNS on a headless computer, the best solution I’ve come up with is to disable systemd-resolved and then manually create an /etc/resolv.conf file. Since headless computers don’t usually move around as much as laptops, it’s likely the /etc/resolv.conf file won’t need to be changed. Still, I wish networkd had an option to manage the resolv.conf file the same way NetworkManager does.

Advanced Network Configurations

The configuration formats are different, but it’s still possible to do more advanced network configurations with Netplan:

Bonding:


network:
  version: 2
  renderer: networkd
  bonds:
    bond0:
      dhcp4: yes
      interfaces:
        - enp2s0
        - enp3s0
      parameters:
        mode: active-backup
        primary: enp2s0

The various bonding modes (balance-rractive-backupbalance-xorbroadcast802.3adbalance-tlb and balance-alb) are supported.

Bridging:


network:
  version: 2
  renderer: networkd
  bridges:
    br0:
      dhcp4: yes
      interfaces:
        - enp4s0
        - enp3s0

Bridging is even simpler to set up. This configuration creates a bridge device using the two interfaces listed. The device (br0) gets address information via DHCP.

CLI Networking Commands

If you’re a crusty old sysadmin like me, you likely type ifconfig to see IP information without even thinking. Unfortunately, those tools are not usually installed by default. This isn’t actually the fault of Ubuntu and Netplan; the old ifconfig toolset has been deprecated. If you want to use the old ifconfig tool, you can install the package:


sudo apt install net-tools

But, if you want to do it the “correct” way, the new “ip” tool is the proper way to do it. Here are some equivalents of things I commonly do with ifconfig:

Show network interface information.

Old way:


ifconfig

New way:

ip address show

(Or you can just do ip a, which is actually less typing than ifconfig.)

Bring interface up.

Old way:

ifconfig enp3s0 up

New way:

ip link set enp3s0 up

Assign IP address.

Old way:

ifconfig enp3s0 192.168.1.22

New way:

ip address add 192.168.1.22 dev enp3s0

Assign complete IP information.

Old way:


ifconfig enp3s0 192.168.1.22 net mask 255.255.255.0 broadcast
 ↪192.168.1.255

New way:


ip address add 192.168.1.22/24 broadcast 192.168.1.255
 ↪dev enp3s0

Add alias interface.

Old way:


ifconfig enp3s0:0 192.168.100.100/24

New way:


ip address add 192.168.100.100/24 dev enp3s0 label enp3s0:0

Show the routing table.

Old way:


route

New way:


ip route show

Add route.

Old way:


route add -net 192.168.55.0/24 dev enp4s0

New way:


ip route add 192.168.55.0/24 dev enp4s0

Old Dogs and New Tricks

I hated Netplan when I first installed Ubuntu 18.04. In fact, on the particular server I was installing, I actually started over and installed 16.04 because it was “comfortable”. After a while, curiosity got the better of me, and I investigated the changes. I’m still more comfortable with the old /etc/network/interfaces file, but I have to admit, Netplan makes a little more sense. There is a single “front end” for configuring networks, and it uses different back ends for the heavy lifting. Right now, the only back ends are the GUI NetworkManager and the systemd-networkd dæmon. With the modular system, however, that could change someday without the need to learn a new way of configuring interfaces. A simple change to the renderer line would send the configuration information to a new back end.

With regard to the new command-line networking tool (ip vs. ifconfig), it really behaves more like other network devices (routers and so on), so that’s probably a good change as well. As technologists, we need to be ready and eager to learn new things. If we weren’t always trying the next best thing, we’d all be configuring Trumpet Winsock to dial in to the internet on our Windows 95 machines. I’m glad I tried that new Linux thing, and while it wasn’t quite as dramatic, I’m glad I tried Netplan as well!

If you’re interested in learning from me directly, my day job is a Linux trainer at CBT Nuggets. There’s TONS of training available, on Linux, Cisco, Microsoft, etc., and you get a full week free when you sign up. It’s like drinking from the firehose of tech knowledge! https://cbt.gg/shawnp0wers

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Password Managers. Yes You Need One. https://brainofshawn.com/2019/10/28/password-managers-yes-you-need-one/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/10/28/password-managers-yes-you-need-one/#comments Mon, 28 Oct 2019 16:57:12 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2254 If you can remember all of your passwords, they’re not good passwords. I used to teach people how to create “good” passwords. Those passwords needed to be lengthy, hard to guess and easy to remember. There were lots of tricks to make your passwords better, and for years, that was enough. That’s not enough anymore. ... Read more

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If you can remember all of your passwords, they’re not good passwords.

I used to teach people how to create “good” passwords. Those passwords needed to be lengthy, hard to guess and easy to remember. There were lots of tricks to make your passwords better, and for years, that was enough.

That’s not enough anymore.

It seems that another data breach happens almost daily, exposing sensitive information for millions of users, which means you need to have separate, secure passwords for each site and service you use. If you use the same password for any two sites, you’re making yourself vulnerable if any single database gets compromised.

There’s a much bigger conversation to be had regarding the best way to protect data. Is the “password” outdated? Should we have something better by now? Granted, there is two-factor authentication, which is a great way to help increase the security on accounts. But although passwords remain the main method for protecting accounts and data, there needs to be a better way to handle them—that’s where password managers come into play.

The Best Password Manager

No, I’m not burying the lede by skipping to all the reviews. As Doc Searls, Katherine Druckman and myself discussed in Episode 8 of the Linux Journal Podcast, the best password manager is the one you use. It may seem like a cheesy thing to say, but it’s a powerful truth. If it’s more complicated to use a password manager than it is to re-use the same set of passwords on multiple sites, many people will just choose the easy way.

Sure, some people are geeky enough to use a password manager at any cost. They understand the value of privacy, understand security, and they take their data very seriously. But for the vast majority of people, the path of least resistance is the way to go. Heck, I’m guilty of that myself in many cases. I have a Keurig coffee machine, not because the coffee is better, but because it’s more convenient. If you’ve ever eaten a Hot Pocket instead of cooking a healthy meal, you can understand the mindset that causes people to make poor password choices. If the goal is having smart passwords, it needs to be easier to use smart passwords than to type “password123” everywhere.

The Reason It Might Work Now

Mobile devices have become the way most people do most things online. Heck, Elon Musk said that we’ve become cybernetic beings, it’s just that the bandwidth to our cybernetic components is really slow (that is, typing on our phones). It’s always been possible to have some sort of password management app on your phone, but until recently, the operating systems didn’t integrate with password managers. That meant you’d have to go from one app into your password manager, look up the site/app, copy the password, switch back to the app, paste the password, and then hope you got it right. Those days are thankfully in the past.

Both recent Android systems and iOS (Apple, not Cisco) versions allow third-party password managers to integrate directly into the data entry system. That means when you’re using a keyboard to type in a login or password, in any app, you can pull in a password manager and enter the data directly with no app switching. Plus, if you have biometrics enabled, most of the time you can unlock your password database with a fingerprint or a view of your face. (For those concerned about the security of biometric-only authentication, it can, of course, be turned off, but remember how important ease of use is for most people!)

So although password managers have been around for years and years, I truly believe it’s only with the advent of their integration into the main operating system of mobile devices that people will actually be able to use them widely. Not all Linux users will agree with me, and not all people in general will want their passwords available in such an easy manner. For the purpose of this article, however, a mobile option is a necessity.

A Tale of Two Concepts

Remember when “the cloud” was a buzzword that didn’t really mean anything specific, but people used it all the time anyway? Well, now it very clearly means servers or services run on computers you don’t own, in data centers you don’t control. The “cloud” is both awesome and terrible. When it comes to storing password data, many people are rightfully concerned about cloud storage. When it comes to password managers, there are basically two types: the kind that stores everything in a local database file and those that store the database in the cloud.

The cloud-based storage isn’t as unsettling as it seems. When the database is stored on the “servers in the sky”, it’s encrypted before it leaves your device. Those companies don’t have access to your actual passwords, just the highly encrypted database that holds them—as long as you trust the companies to be honest about such things. For what it’s worth, I do think the major companies are fairly trustworthy about keeping their grubby mitts off your actual passwords. Still, with the closed-source options, a level of trust is required that some people just aren’t willing to give. I’m going to look at password managers from both camps.

The Contenders

I picked five(-ish) password managers for this review. Please realize there are dozens and dozens of very usable, very secure, password managers for Linux. Some are command-line only. Some are just basic PGP encryption of text files containing user name/password pairs. Today’s review is not meant to be all-encompassing; it’s meant to be helpful for average Linux users who want to handle their passwords better than they currently do. I say five(-ish), because one of the entries has multiple versions. The list is:

  1. KeePass/KeePassX/KeePassXC: this is the one(-ish) that has multiple variations on the same theme. More details later.
  2. 1Password.
  3. LastPass.
  4. Bitwarden.
  5. Browser.

I highlight each of these in this article, in no particular order.

Your Browser’s Password Database

Most people don’t consider using their browser as a password manager a good idea. I’m one of those people. Depending on the browser, the version and the settings you choose, your passwords might not even be encrypted. There is also the problem of using those passwords in other apps. Granted, if you use Chrome, your Android phone likely will be able to access the passwords for you to use in other apps, but I’m simply not convinced the browser is the best place to store your passwords.

I’m sure the password storage feature of modern browsers is more secure than in the past, but a browser’s main function isn’t to secure your passwords, so I wouldn’t trust it to do so. I mention this option because it’s installed by default with every browser. It’s probably the most widely used option, and that breaks my heart. It’s too easy to click “save my password” and conveniently have your password filled in the next time you visit.

Is using the browser’s “save password” function better than using nothing at all? Maybe. It does allow people to use different passwords, trusting the browser to remember them. But, that’s about it. I’m sure the latest browsers have the option to secure the passwords a bit, but it’s not that way by default. I know this, because when I sit at my wife’s computer, I simply start her browser (Chrome), and all her passwords are filled in for me when I visit various websites. They’ve almost made it too easy to use poor security practices. The only hope is to have better options that are even easier—and I think we actually do. Keep reading!

The KeePass Kraziness

First off, these password managers are the ones that use a local, non-cloud-based database for storing passwords. If the thought of your encrypted passwords living on someone else’s servers offends your sensibilities, this is probably the best choice for you. And it is a really good choice, whichever flavor you pick.

The skinny on the various programs that share similar names is that originally, there was KeePass. It didn’t have a Linux version, so there was another program, KeePassX, that used an identical (and fully compatible) database. KeePassX runs natively on Linux, along with the other major OSes. To complicate issues, KeePass then released a Linux version, which runs natively, but it uses Mono libraries. It runs, and it runs fine, but Mono is a bit kludgy on Linux, so most folks still used KeePassX. Then KeePassXC came around, because the KeePassX program was getting a little long in the tooth, and it hadn’t been updated in a long time. So now, there are three programs, all of which work natively on Linux, and all of which are perfectly acceptable programs to use. I prefer KeePassXC (Figure 1), but only because it seems to be most actively developed. The good news is, all three programs can use the exact same database file. Really. If there is a single ray of sunshine on a messy situation, it’s that.

""

Figure 1. KeePassXC has a friendly, native Linux interface.

KeePass(X/XC) Features:

  • Local database file, with no syncing mechanism.
  • Database can be synced by a third party (such as Dropbox).
  • Supports master password and/or keyfile unlocking.
  • Very nice password generator (Figure 2).
  • Secure localhost-only browser integration (KeePassHTTP).

KeePass(X/XC) Pros:

  • No cloud storage.
  • Command-line interface included.
  • 2FA abilities (YubiKey).
  • Open source.
  • No “premium” features, everything is free.

KeePass(X/XC) Cons:

  • No cloud storage (yes, it’s a pro and a con, depending).
  • Brand confusion with multiple variations.
  • Requires third-party Android/iOS app for mobile use.
  • More complicated than cloud-based alternatives (file to sync/copy).
""

Figure 2. The KeePassXC password generator is awesome. I don’t even use KeePassXC for my password manager, but I still like the generator!

The KeePass family of password managers is arguably the most open-source-minded option of those I cover here. Depending on the user, to handle syncing/copying the database rather than depending on an unknown third party to store the data has a traditional Linux feel. For those folks who are most concerned about their data integrity, a KeePass database is probably the best option. Thankfully, due to third-party tools like KeePass2Droid (for Android) and MiniKeePass/KyPass for iOS, it’s possible to use your database on mobile devices as well. In fact, most apps handle syncing your database for you.

Bitwarden

I didn’t know the Bitwarden password manager even existed until we did a Twitter poll asking what password managers LJ readers used. I have to admit, it’s an impressive system, and it ticks almost all the “feel good” boxes Linux users would want (Figure 3). Not only is it open source, but also the non-premium offering is a complete system. Yes, there is a premium option for $10/year, but the non-paid version isn’t crippled in any way.

""

Figure 3. Bitwarden is very well designed, and with its open-source nature, it’s hard to beat.

Bitwarden does store your data in its own cloud servers, but since the software is open source, you can examine the code to make sure the company isn’t doing anything underhanded. Bitwarden also has its own apps for Android/iOS and extensions for all major browsers. There’s no need to use a third-party tool. In fact, it even includes command-line tools for those folks who want to access the database in a text-only environment.

Bitwarden Features:

  • Open-source.
  • Cloud-based storage.
  • Decent password generator.
  • Native apps for Linux, Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.
  • Browser extensions for all major browsers.
  • Options to store logins, secure notes, credit cards and so on.

Bitwarden Pros:

  • One developer for all apps.
  • Open-source!
  • Cloud-based access.
  • Works offline if the “cloud” is unavailable.
  • Free version isn’t crippled.
  • Browser plugin works very well.

Bitwarden Cons:

  • Database is stored in the cloud (again, it’s a pro and a con, depending).
  • Some 2FA options require the Premium version.

Bitwarden Premium Version:

  • $10/year.
  • Additional 2FA options.
  • 1GB encrypted storage.

I’ll admit, Bitwarden is very, very impressive. If I had to pick a personal favorite, it probably would be this one. I’m already using a different option, and I’m happy with it, but if I were starting from scratch, I’d probably choose Bitwarden.

1Password

1Password is a widely used program for password management. But honestly, I’m not sure why. Don’t get me wrong; it works well, and it has great features. The problem is that I can’t find any features it has over the alternatives, and there isn’t a free option at all.

There’s also no native Linux application, but the 1PasswordX browser extension works well under Linux, and it’s user-friendly enough to use for things other than browser login needs. Still, although I don’t begrudge the company for charging a fee for the service, the alternatives offer significant services for free, and that’s hard to beat. Finally, 1Password utilizes a “secret key” that’s required on each device to log in. Although it is an additional layer of security, in practice, it’s a bit of a pain to install on each device.

1Password Features:

  • Cloud-based storage.
  • Non-login data encryption (Figure 4).
  • Printable “emergency kit” for recovering account.
  • Cross-platform browser extension.
  • Offline access.

1Password Pros:

  • Easy-to-use interface.
  • Very good browser integration.

1Password Cons:

  • $3/month, no free features.
  • Secret-key system can be cumbersome.
  • No native Linux app.
  • Proprietary, closed-source code.

1Password Premium Features:

  • All features require a monthly subscription.
""

Figure 4. 1Password has a great interface, and it stores lots of data.

If there weren’t any other password managers out there, 1Password would be incredible. Unfortunately for the 1Password company, there are other options, several of which are at least as good. I will admit, I really liked the browser extension’s interface, and it handled inserting login information into authentication fields very well. I’m not convinced it’s enough for the premium price, however, especially since there isn’t a free option at all.

LastPass

Okay, first I feel I should admit that LastPass is the password manager I use (Figure 5). As I mentioned previously, if I were to start over from scratch, I’d probably choose Bitwarden. That said, LastPass keeps getting better, and its integration with browsers, mobile devices and native operating systems is pretty great.

""

Figure 5. I seldom use anything other than LastPass’s browser extension, unless I’m on my mobile device, but the app looks very similar.

LastPass offers a free tier and a paid tier. Not too long ago, you had to pay for the premium service ($2/month) in order to use it on a mobile device. Recently, however, LastPass opened mobile device syncing and integration into the completely free offering. That is significant, because it brings the free version to the same level as the free version of Bitwarden. (I suspect perhaps Bitwarden is the reason LastPass changed its free tier, but I have no way of knowing.)

LastPass Features:

  • Cloud-based storage.
  • Native apps for Linux, iOS and Android.
  • 2FA.
  • Offline access.
  • Cross-platform browser extension.

LastPass Pros:

  • Cloud-based storage.
  • Very robust free offering.
  • Smoothest browser-based password saving (in my experience).

LastPass Cons:

  • Data stored in the cloud (yes, it’s a pro and a con, depending).
  • Rumored to have poor support (I’ve never needed it).
  • Proprietary, closed-source code.

LastPass Premium:

  • $2/month.
  • Gives 1GB online file storage.
  • Provides the ability to share passwords.
  • Enhanced 2FA possibilities.
  • Emergency access granting (Figure 6).
""

Figure 6. This is sort of a “deadman’s” switch for emergency access. It allows you to give emergency access to someone, with the ability to revoke that access before it actually happens. Pretty neat!

LastPass is the only option I can give an opinion on based on extended experience. I did try each option listed here for a few days, and honestly, each one was perfectly acceptable. LastPass has been rock-solid for me, and even though it’s not open source, it does work well across multiple platforms.

The Winner?

Honestly, with the options available, especially those highlighted today, it’s hard to lose when picking a password manager. I sort of picked the top managers, and gave an overview of each. There are other, more obscure password managers. There are some options that are Linux-only. I decided to look at options that would work regardless of what platform you find yourself on now or even in the future. Once you pick a solution, migrating is a bit of a pain, so starting with something flexible is ideal.

If you’re concerned about someone else controlling your data (even if it’s encrypted), the KeePass/KeePassX/KeePassXC family is probably your best bet. If you don’t mind trusting others with your data-syncing, LastPass or Bitwarden probably will be ideal. I suppose if you don’t trust “free” products, or if you just really like the layout of 1Password, it’s a viable option. And I guess, in a pinch, using browser password management is better than nothing. But please, be sure the data is encrypted and password-protected.

Finally, even if none of these options are something you’d use on a daily basis, consider recommending one to someone you care about. Keeping track of passwords in a secure, sync-able database is a huge step in living a more secure online lifestyle. Now that mobile devices are taken seriously in the password management world, password managers make sense for everyone—even your non-techie friends and family.

Resources

[NOTE: This post was originally posted on the Linux Journal website. Since Linux Journal is now defunct, and authors own their content, I’m reposting here.]

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Today, I Broke My Brain https://brainofshawn.com/2019/10/13/today-i-broke-my-brain/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/10/13/today-i-broke-my-brain/#comments Sun, 13 Oct 2019 21:50:53 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2247 I don’t talk much about mental illness. Not because of any stigma against it, or because I’m ashamed of having and handling mental illness, but rather because I just don’t have much to say on the issue. My car accident (see link above) sparked some serious brain issues for me, including anxiety, depression, OCD, and ... Read more

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Some days suck. Today, for instance.

I don’t talk much about mental illness. Not because of any stigma against it, or because I’m ashamed of having and handling mental illness, but rather because I just don’t have much to say on the issue. My car accident (see link above) sparked some serious brain issues for me, including anxiety, depression, OCD, and some symptoms that I’m not even sure what to call.

Today is a bad day.

I don’t have many bad days anymore. I’ve been on a medication for over a decade that works well to keep my brain in check. I’ve lived through enough rough times, that I can look back and see patterns, and know I’m not actually going crazy, and that this too will pass. That doesn’t make today better, really, but it does give me hope that tomorrow will be.

Today, I went grocery shopping with Donna. The store was busy. And really, that was it. My brain broke. For me, that means I was overwhelmed, for no really good reason. It manifests for me in a pretty predictable fashion:

  • I look scared and bewildered.
  • I can’t discern when people are talking to me over the din of background noise.
  • I stutter. (That’s really the one that gives it away to my loved ones. I can fake ’em out a bit usually, but stuttering is hard to hide)
  • I get confused easily. This is mainly due to the background noise thing.
  • I get VERY frustrated with myself, my stupid brain, my inability to be an effective family member, and my inability to pull myself out of it.
  • My hands shake.
  • I get odd facial twitches.
  • The worst part is, inside my head, I’m perfectly fine. I can think, I can reason — but it’s like I’m trying to function with 1,000 people screaming directions at me, and a layer of cotton between me and life.

I’ll be fine tomorrow. Really I will. And my family is incredibly supportive. They aren’t frustrated with me. They might be frustrated FOR me, but that’s different altogether. (It’s also not pity, for which I’m grateful) Unfortunately, Sunday night is our young adult ministry, and it means we’re feeding 20-30 college-aged people, along with coordinating music and discussion. I won’t be any help, which means Donna will have to do twice the amount of work. And THAT is the most frustrating part. Being a burden. (If Donna reads this, she’ll insist I’m not a burden, and I get it, she’s not upset with me. But really, it’s a burden we share, but a burden nonetheless)

ANYWAY, I post lots of silly photos. I share funny anecdotes. I smile a lot on the Internet. In my attempt to be as real as possible, I figured it only fair to share that sometimes I have bad days too. And that’s OK. Just think good thoughts at my wife. She totally deserves it today.

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An Open Letter to the Singers in My Life https://brainofshawn.com/2019/03/20/an-open-letter-to-the-singers-in-my-life/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/03/20/an-open-letter-to-the-singers-in-my-life/#respond Wed, 20 Mar 2019 17:02:52 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2239 This letter is a response to my eldest daughter mentioning that she doesn’t post videos of herself singing, because she doesn’t want to post them just to get “likes” and puff herself up. She’s worried about posting them for the wrong reason, and doesn’t want to be “that” person. While I respect that… Dear Singers ... Read more

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This letter is a response to my eldest daughter mentioning that she doesn’t post videos of herself singing, because she doesn’t want to post them just to get “likes” and puff herself up. She’s worried about posting them for the wrong reason, and doesn’t want to be “that” person. While I respect that…

Dear Singers I Love,

You know how sometimes you’re having a bad day, or life is just stepping on your face so hard it feels like you’re under water? I live with singers, and I know that when life kicks you in the head like that, you sing. You sing hard. There’s something magical about music, in that you can dump your pain, fear, heartache, and worries into it. That’s true of any art (in my opinion), but music is particular in its ability to rinse away those feelings. If you’re a singer, you know what I mean.

Here’s the rub: We don’t all have that singing ability. I don’t say that out of jealousy (much, lol), but rather to enlighten you. When you sing, your music not only washes away that pent up pain in your life, but it actually has a similar effect on others who hear it. Really. The more you put your soul into music, the more that music has pointy, jagged edges that rub off the painful crusty bits on the rest of us, which we can’t seem to expel on our own. We just don’t have that same magic.

You know how people tell you that you have a gift, and you should share it with others? I know that sounds like polite banter, or kind words to compliment your skill. I assure you, it’s quite literal. Your ability to make magical, soul-cleansing music is a gift. It’s a gift that others not only appreciate, but desperately need. When you share your music, you’re sharing that gift.

Certainly, there’s an ego-swelling potential when you share your music, and when people give you “likes” and praise. But please know that dealing with that difficult line between joy and arrogance is a burden I think you should consider suffering. When those of us without your gift give you “likes” and praise, it’s more than just complimenting your skill. It’s complimenting and appreciating your sharing. That gift you have benefits others in an oddly similar way that it benefits you.

I’m sorry that it often takes such pain to create such beauty. I’m embarrassed to ask you to share your coping mechanism with the rest of us. But please, when I tell you that you have a gift and you should share it with others — it’s so much more than asking for you to share your pleasant voice. I’m asking you to share your ability to cleanse souls.

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Outsmarting the Smart Fridge https://brainofshawn.com/2019/01/03/outsmarting-the-smart-fridge/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/01/03/outsmarting-the-smart-fridge/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2019 19:13:44 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2215 Our fancy new “Space Fridge” has some amazing features. It will auto-fill a glass, based on sensor readings so it knows how much water to add. It has a fancy LCD touchscreen that allows you to configure its features. Heck, it even warns you if you leave the door ajar by playing an annoying tune ... Read more

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Scotch tape and creativity...

Our fancy new “Space Fridge” has some amazing features. It will auto-fill a glass, based on sensor readings so it knows how much water to add. It has a fancy LCD touchscreen that allows you to configure its features. Heck, it even warns you if you leave the door ajar by playing an annoying tune until you shut it.

It also requires a $50 water filter with a special RFID (Radio Frequency IDentification) tag that has the sole purpose of forcing you to replace the filter after 6 months. It’s crazy. You can buy a pack of 2 filters that will fit the fridge for $16, but without the RFID tag, they won’t work, and your fridge will refuse to dispense water. Mind you, the ONLY difference is the RFID tag, the cheap filter itself is perfectly fine.

That really annoyed me, and so I pondered what to do. For the past year, I’ve left the “expired” filter in the fridge and constantly press “override” to get another perfectly-filtered fill from the expired $50 filter. That is extremely frustrating, and occasionally the fridge absolutely refuses to dispense water unless you replace the filter. I didn’t want to put the “bypass” device in, because I really dislike drinking chlorinated water. But that made me think… Why does the bypass device work?

See, the GE fridge includes a plastic non-filter thing that screws into the filter slot, and allows the fridge to dispense unfiltered water and ice. But why does that work, yet the cheap non-RFID filters don’t? It turns out there’s a tiny little RFID tag hidden under a sticker on the bypass device, which puts the fridge into “unfiltered” mode. The only difference, apart from being unfiltered, is the tiny little graphic on the screen shaming you into buying another $50 filter.

You probably see where I’m going with this. I tore the plastic bypass device apart, took out the RFID tag, and taped it to the inside of the fridge where the sensor is. (That’s what the red arrow is pointing to at the top) Now I can use the cheap filters, and replace them when they stop working well. How do I know they need to be replaced without the RFID system telling me? Well, because the water starts flowing more slowly. Then I pop out one $8 filter, and put in a new one. The fridge still thinks it’s in bypass mode, and I no longer want to smash it with a hammer.

Oh, and that “Unfiltered Water” reminder? It just makes me smile every time I see it. Because it turns out I’m smarter than our smart fridge after all. 🙂

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What’s With the Pink Hat? https://brainofshawn.com/2019/01/02/whats-with-the-pink-hat/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/01/02/whats-with-the-pink-hat/#comments Thu, 03 Jan 2019 00:24:48 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2192 I wear pink hats. Pretty much exclusively. It wasn’t always that way, in fact, my first pink hat was a Mother’s Day ball cap from the Tiger’s “pink out” weekend last year. I wore the hat, and it disturbed some people. Like, it really disturbed some people. Especially older men. That bothered me, because if ... Read more

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Dinosaur shirts ALWAYS go well with pink hats...

I wear pink hats. Pretty much exclusively. It wasn’t always that way, in fact, my first pink hat was a Mother’s Day ball cap from the Tiger’s “pink out” weekend last year. I wore the hat, and it disturbed some people.

Like, it really disturbed some people. Especially older men. That bothered me, because if I want to wear a pink hat, I should be able to wear a pink hat. So it became part of my persona. When I first started wearing pink hats, it was just because my pink Detroit Tigers hat was another hat in my collection. But now when when people ask me why I wear pink hats, my answer is a bit longer…

  • I wear pink hats because I want gender-based stereotypes to die.
  • I wear pink hats because there aren’t enough women in science, math, technology, and trades. I want to show them it’s OK to buck tradition.
  • I wear pink hats because my eldest daughter is a carpenter, and I want that to be normal, not, “super unique.”
  • I wear pink hats because I think pink hats are nifty.
  • I wear pink hats because they make people uncomfortable, in a good way.
  • I wear pink hats (and crazy shirts) so people notice a grown man wearing pink, and think about what that does or doesn’t mean.
  • I wear pink hats because I want to be brave, and show my kids that bravery comes in many forms.
  • I wear pink hats because I’m going bald. (That’s not specific to the pinkness of the hat, but why I wear hats in general, lol)

I’ve raised 3 wonderful daughters, the youngest of which will be 18 in a couple weeks. Being a father of daughters in our current society is frustrating. I don’t want my girls to have a skewed view of what it means to be masculine and feminine. I want them to be confident. I want them to follow traditional gender roles if they want to, and I want them to go directly against the grain if they don’t.

I want my kids to know that I can wear pink and bake cupcakes, and still be manly. And they can build houses and work on cars and still be girly. I want it to be OK for anyone to wear a pink hat, so I do, and so that’s why I’m often referred to as, “The Pink Hat Guy.”

I’m OK with that. 🙂

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Top 7 Reasons to Never Buy a Bidet https://brainofshawn.com/2019/01/01/top-7-reasons-to-never-buy-a-bidet/ https://brainofshawn.com/2019/01/01/top-7-reasons-to-never-buy-a-bidet/#respond Tue, 01 Jan 2019 22:12:52 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2184 We’ve had a bidet in our master bathroom for about a year, and so I feel pretty confident that I can give you this list to start your year on the right foot. So here are the top 7 reasons never to buy a bidet: International travel will lose its mystery. You know that scene ... Read more

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We’ve had a bidet in our master bathroom for about a year, and so I feel pretty confident that I can give you this list to start your year on the right foot. So here are the top 7 reasons never to buy a bidet:

  1. International travel will lose its mystery. You know that scene in Crocodile Dundee where he can’t figure out the bidet in his hotel room? You’ll miss out on that comedy genius when traveling abroad. Bidets are the norm in many other countries, so your vacation will be far less exotic.
  2. Fellow Americans will never look the same. You’ll know most everyone you see in the grocery store has a crusty bottom wiped by dry toilet paper. Honestly, if we get a drop of syrup on our fingers, we wash them with soap and water. But a smear of poop? Yeah, dry toilet paper rubbed on it is plenty. Eiw.
  3. Your Butthole Will Get Wimpy. Seriously, my rear end is like a pampered purse-poodle. It can’t handle regular bathrooms anymore. If I’m stuck using a bathroom other than my own for number 2’s, I rub that dry paper on my bottom, hoping for a clean feeling. The feeling never comes, but my bum sure gets raw.
  4. One won’t be enough. What if your spouse is doing their hair in the morning? Sure, the spare bathroom used to be a great backup for your morning constitutional, but now? You better leave time for a shower afterward, because without a second bidet, that backup bathroom is just a prequel for an emergency shower. Because starting your day with a crusty bottom? Yeah, no.
  5. Toilet paper bargains will be meaningless. When you only need toilet paper to dry your pampered bottom, you’ll use far, far less of it. When your favorite TP goes on sale, you’ll still have plenty in the cupboard. Opportunity lost.
  6. Emergency preparedness goes down the drain. Do you have an emergency contact for when you inevitably run out of toilet paper? Have you waddled through the house with your pants at your ankles to the second bathroom? Have you ever just wiped with your underwear and thrown them away afterward? Now the worst that happens is an extended session of Candy Crush while you wait for your sparkling bottom to air dry. Bidets make us lazy!
  7. Your friend’s dog won’t bury his nose in your crotch anymore. I mean, why would Rufus try to smell your tender bits? There’s nothing down there but a faint whiff of fabric softener from your surprisingly fresh underwear. For people who love to embarrass their friends with uncomfortable squirming from curious puppy snouts, it’s a real letdown.

So do yourself a favor, and avoid buying a bidet at all costs. It will ruin your life. And with options like heated seats, warm water spray, and a gentle heated dryer, the fancy models will make waking up in the morning a bit less miserable. And being happy early in the morning? That’s just un-American!

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Hey Google, Can You Break Your Spine With A Burpee? https://brainofshawn.com/2018/10/06/hey-google-can-you-break-your-spine-with-a-burpee/ https://brainofshawn.com/2018/10/06/hey-google-can-you-break-your-spine-with-a-burpee/#respond Sat, 06 Oct 2018 15:37:36 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2178 I’m 43. I have to think really hard every time someone asks, because after car insurance getting cheaper at 25, there really aren’t any milestones to look forward to in life. Oh, you thought a blog post about burpees would be motivational? Yeah, no refunds, sorry. (Not sorry) I’m 43, I’m about 5’11”, and I ... Read more

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Seriously. My DadShirt game is strong…

I’m 43. I have to think really hard every time someone asks, because after car insurance getting cheaper at 25, there really aren’t any milestones to look forward to in life. Oh, you thought a blog post about burpees would be motivational? Yeah, no refunds, sorry. (Not sorry)

I’m 43, I’m about 5’11”, and I weigh about 220lbs. I’m officially obese, but don’t worry, I, “carry my weight well.” I’m pretty sure that just means I’m so unattractive, no one notices I’m *also* fat. But here’s the deal, I really want to wear the Reptar shirt my friend Josh gave me, but it’s too tight.

Oh, you were hoping for an inspiring weight loss journey involving health and self-discovery? Yeah, no. I like wearing absurd DadShirts, and a couple of my best ones are too tight. I’ve come to the realization that no amount of exercise will bring back my hair, and my bald option looks far more like Uncle Fester than The Rock. I want to wear my pink button up shirt with cartoon dinosaurs on it. That’s my main motivation. Again, no refunds, you’ve read this far, you should realize there’s little hope for a talk about lifestyle choices.

Huh. Not giving a crap. I guess that’s another milestone worth looking forward to. I have no idea at what age that gem is attained, but it’s sub-43. Maybe that’s the question to Life, the Universe, and Everything, and last year I stopped giving a crap. Cool.

But back to burpees. Back, heh, get it? Yeah, my back hurts. I don’t know for sure, but I think when you find yourself googling “spine pain burpee”, you’ve achieved peak fitness shame. Why would I choose to attempt burpees? Because I’m lazy. No really.

I wanted to find the best way to get serious exercise while doing the least possible exercise. Burpees are reported to engage like, every muscle in your body, count as cardio and strength, and can be done anywhere. (I don’t actually recommend parking lots, especially if you have a mouse-clicking job like me, my baby-soft finger sausages get bruises on carpet…) Plus, a co-worker (Michael Aliotti) recently set the world record for most burpees in 12 hours. He did 7,295. I kid you not. So I figured if I did burpees, I’d have the same chiseled, eternally-25 body he has. Lol, actually no, I never thought that. But I thought if I did enough burpees, I might be able to button my men’s size large Reptar shirt.

Why does a pink Reptar shirt come in men’s size large? Shut up, when you’re 42 you’ll understand what things are cool.

ANYWAY, I knew that starting with 7,295 burpees would probably go poorly for me. So I decided to do 100 burpees. That seems like a nice, round number. It’s also a fairly common number of burpees for super-fit people who could totally wear Reptar shirts can do. BUT. I’m not an idiot, so I searched for an online “plan” for getting to 100 burpees. Eventually. I found a 30-day schedule somewhere online, and decided I could ramp up to 100 burpees in a month and not die. (Yes yes, you see where this is going. I’d never done a burpee, and well, let’s just say they’re not as satisfying as their assumed namesake, burping.)

Day 1 on the schedule calls for 8 burpees. 8. The OCD part of my brain (ie, the part inside my skull, the whole stupid thing) was really annoyed by it being 8 and not 10. But whatever. Day 2 is 11, and that’s somehow worse, so I’ll just do 8 and shut up. If you’re expecting me to say I tried the first burpee, and questioned life or something, well no. 8 burpees were surprisingly easy.

Don’t get me wrong. When I do a burpee, it looks like I’ve dropped my keys, fallen over trying to pick them up, and then eventually stand up and celebrate the retrieval of my keys with a sad 2″ hop. Nevertheless, I did 8 burpees in a row, forgetting to breathe until about burpee 4, and apart from a small twinge in my spine, everything went well. I actually thought perhaps I should do more burpees. Possibly 100 on the first day, because really, my heart was pumping, but I wasn’t out of breath or anything. Oddly, the same OCD that was annoyed by “8” burpees on day 1 wouldn’t let me change the schedule. So I stopped.

That was before work on Wednesday. By lunch on Wednesday, I was pretty sure I’d severed my spine and secretly replaced all my cervical discs with shark teeth. It literally felt like if I went into a plank position, I might break directly in half. I considered going to the doctor, but thankfully I’m over 42, so I don’t give a crap anymore. Also, the doctor would assuredly tell me that I needed to rest. I figure since I’ve been resting for the past 20 years or so, I have a bit of rest built up, and I should be fine.

Then dinnertime came. I don’t think I ate dinner, but not because I thought fasting would improve my health or anything. No, I didn’t eat dinner, because I couldn’t lean forward enough to point my face at the table. My stomach muscles DID apparently decide to rest, and refused to do simple things like help me lean forward. They made this refusal clear by stabbing themselves with extra shark teeth they found laying around my spine area. It’s not really a big deal though, because my arms wouldn’t have been able to lift the plastic fork all the way to my mouth anyway. So I fasted. Slowly.

If you’re thinking I gave up, well, you’re right. On life. On ever being able to move again. I gave up my belief that Michael Aliotti is human. But I did *not* give up on the 100 burpee schedule, because again, OCD. The next morning, I did 11 burpees. Sort of. See, Wednesday evening after not-dinner, I googled ways to adjust burpees for people with jellyfish spines. It turns out you can “walk back” to a plank position instead of jumping (or thrusting, or whatever crazy crossfit term is correct for jumping into a push-up position). And then you can either walk back to a squatting position, or “explode” back from the plank position. The term “explode” seemed to indicate what my back would do, but nevertheless, I did jump back after walking into the plank position. And I did it 11 times.

This time, I WAS out of breath. I’m not sure how it happened, because while carefully walking back into plank position, I paid very close attention to not snapping in two, and I didn’t realize I was huffing and puffing. But I did all 11 SadBurpees, and I called it good.

Look, day 2 hurt. I won’t give you details. If you want an object lesson, just like, drop bricks on yourself in your various tender parts. It kinda felt like that.

Today is day 3. Oh, again, you were looking for a motivational blog post about how the destination was worth the journey and crap like that? I just want to wear a Reptar shirt. I don’t care about existential bliss. Also, this morning I did 14 burpees. I didn’t walk them back, because my spine felt strong. (LOL LOL, no it didn’t, nothing on me feels strong, except my cynicism muscle.) I did regular burpees because I’m lazy, and the walk-back thing took longer than normal. It’s been about 20 minutes, and I won’t lie, my back hurts. Today it just regular-hurts though, not “I think I’ve severed my spinal cord” hurts. We’ll see what lunchtime brings. But tomorrow is a “rest day”, so I figured if I had to schedule a rest day, I should expect it to be a day of hospitalization and regret. But that’s tomorrow.

So what’s the point of this post? I have no idea. I’m in my recliner, questioning my life choices, and my laptop was within reach. I probably won’t blog about my 100 burpee schedule again, because I suspect tomorrow’s day of rest might be a biblical rest metaphor, and I’m going to die sometime this evening around dinner. Nevertheless, if you see me around town in a super awesome Reptar shirt, you’ll know the burpees worked. Or that I gave up and found an XL somewhere online.

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Coolest Doodle Ever! https://brainofshawn.com/2018/09/21/coolest-doodle-ever/ https://brainofshawn.com/2018/09/21/coolest-doodle-ever/#respond Fri, 21 Sep 2018 15:30:16 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2172 Today marks 51 years since Mister Rogers taped his first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The Google Doodle commemorating the event is pure awesome!  

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Today marks 51 years since Mister Rogers taped his first episode of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. The Google Doodle commemorating the event is pure awesome!

 

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The Martian Movie (A Quick Review) https://brainofshawn.com/2015/10/02/the-martian-movie-a-quick-review/ https://brainofshawn.com/2015/10/02/the-martian-movie-a-quick-review/#comments Fri, 02 Oct 2015 22:26:58 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2151 Most people who follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or know me in meatspace) are familiar with my excitement regarding, “The Martian” book and movie. I still think it’s my favorite book of all time. And that’s saying something. So how did the movie compare? Surprisingly well, and not surprisingly, it was less awesome than ... Read more

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The MartianMost people who follow me on Twitter or Facebook (or know me in meatspace) are familiar with my excitement regarding, “The Martian” book and movie. I still think it’s my favorite book of all time. And that’s saying something. So how did the movie compare? Surprisingly well, and not surprisingly, it was less awesome than the book.

The casting was probably the best part of the movie adaptation. Matt Damon is an incredible actor, and his personality is perfect for the main character. The other characters are well cast too, but Damon really did Mark Watney (the main character) justice. The science, which was extremely accurate in the book, was a bit on the loosey-goosey side in the movie. This was normally not a big deal, but at least one scene left me slack-jawed and eye-rolling.

Even though the movie was 2 hours and 21 minutes long, there was a LOT left out. Like, a lot lot. Lot.

Really, a lot. 🙂 I’m actually waiting to hear from folks who haven’t read the book to know if the movie had continuity. For me, the parts left out were automatically filled in mentally. Thankfully, the parts that were in the movie were very close to the book. I hope the movie makes sense to folks who didn’t read the book. I also hope there’s enough in the movie to make people fall in love with the story.

There were actually a few of the minor changes that I preferred over the book. Without adding spoilers, the ketchup scene and the ending space scene were awesome differences from the book. Will the changes, the focus on action over science, and the incredible acting make The Martian as popular as I hope? Probably not. It will be awesome if I’m wrong, but I worry it won’t inspire the passion for space exploration that I imagine. I’m not sure anything can quite inspire the passion we had in the 60s, but gosh I hope something does!

Lastly, two things: the 3D is very subtle and quite well done. If you don’t see it in 3D, you’re not missing anything important, but at the same time, the 3D does a good job of immersing you into the world as opposed to being gimmicky. Also, while the book has profanity out the wazoo, the movie is PG-13, and has very limited swearing. There are 2 F-bombs, which I think is the legal limit for PG-13 rating. There are some other cuss words, but it’s not obnoxious.

tl;dr version: GO SEE THIS MOVIE AND READ THIS BOOK. (but not at the same time)

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Phobias and Tiny Potties https://brainofshawn.com/2015/05/11/phobias-and-tiny-potties/ https://brainofshawn.com/2015/05/11/phobias-and-tiny-potties/#comments Tue, 12 May 2015 01:21:46 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2139 I think it’s still “Mental Health Awareness Month.” Or whatever it’s called. This post is the 38,000ft edition of, “Crazy Things About Shawn.” I’m currently somewhere over Iowa, and just had my traditional ginger ale and Delta cookie treat. (Truly, they taste amazing together, but only when you’re 7 miles up in the air) As ... Read more

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I'm trying not to think about the sticky tray...I think it’s still “Mental Health Awareness Month.” Or whatever it’s called. This post is the 38,000ft edition of, “Crazy Things About Shawn.”

I’m currently somewhere over Iowa, and just had my traditional ginger ale and Delta cookie treat. (Truly, they taste amazing together, but only when you’re 7 miles up in the air)

As I finished my delicious cookie treat, I grasped the tray to help scooch up in my seat, and discovered that the back edge of my tray was sticky. Thus, my hand was sticky. We might not know each other very well, but you should know that apart from bees, nothing freaks me out more than being sticky. And since the plane has been going through turbulence, the seat belt light has been on for most of the flight.

I had to sit in my seat with a sticky hand.

Just to put a little clarity in the conversation, I’d much rather jump OUT of the plane (with a parachute, I’m not suicidal) than to sit in the plane with a sticky hand. Finally, after about 63 hours of waiting (it’s a 4 hour flight, my chronological senses might be skewed) the seat belt light finally shut off. So, for what I think is the first time in my life, I used the bathroom on a plane. I did try to actually “go” while I was there, because I just had all that ginger ale, and I was already in the bathroom. But I didn’t attempt to use the tiny facilities until AFTER I washed my hands with the most inconvenient (but so blessedly wonderful) sink. And yes, I washed my hands again afterward too, because my mother trained me right. 🙂

So, I said all that to say: Airplane bathrooms are TINY! And I must confess, I’m concerned for the ladies, because as a guy, peeing into a tiny metal bowl while the plane jostles around the sky (the seat belt light went back on whilst I was in the bathroom) is challenging. While I personally peed like an olympic diver (no splash), I suspect that entire little poop closet is FULL of tinkle spray. It’s actually kind of gross. I’d really hate to have to sit on that tiny toilet.

Also, as an aside to my already derailed post (proof of mental illness?), I have no idea how folks do the hanky panky in those things. Maybe that’s just in the movies, or maybe the first class bathrooms have couches or something.

But the sink. The sink works. THANK GOD!

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Mental Illness Month https://brainofshawn.com/2015/05/05/mental-illness-month/ https://brainofshawn.com/2015/05/05/mental-illness-month/#comments Tue, 05 May 2015 20:20:27 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2137 I think May is mental illness month. It might be October though, because Google tells me both things. It doesn’t really matter though, because honestly it’s not something that only happens once a year. I mean “Christmas Month” makes sense, or “Pre Spring Break Tanning Bed Month” — but Mental Illness isn’t seasonal. Well, unless ... Read more

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I think May is mental illness month. It might be October though, because Google tells me both things. It doesn’t really matter though, because honestly it’s not something that only happens once a year. I mean “Christmas Month” makes sense, or “Pre Spring Break Tanning Bed Month” — but Mental Illness isn’t seasonal. Well, unless it’s Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is seasonal by definition. Even that isn’t just one month long though, so leave me alone about it!

In case you haven’t already realized it, I suffer from mental illness. Some of it might be a result of my accident, but for the most part it’s just the way my brain was built. I rarely talk about my mental illness, because it’s horribly embarrassing. Plus, I generally try not to think about it, especially since overthinking is sorta one of the symptoms. Nonetheless, I’m feeling OK today, and thought it would be a good idea to use the whole “Month” thing as an excuse.

I always try to do my best, and in the case of mental illnesses, I’m a bit of an overachiever. I have the “Trifecta of Crazy”, or more specifically, I suffer from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Anxiety, and Depression. Before you line up to get my autograph, it’s important to realize that the three disorders are very closely related, and are sorta like symptoms of the same issue. (I know, the issue is called “crazy”, har har har) I’ll explain them in order of their crippling effect…

OCD – This is the one that is hardest to believe is real. For me, I mean. Because really, it feels insane WHILE I’m doing it. My particular manifestation of OCD is that I have to do things evenly. If I turn the volume up on the remote, I need to also turn it down. If I step on a sidewalk crack with my right foot, I have to step on one with my left. If that weren’t enough, I then have to step on one with my left again, followed by stepping on one with my right. Because it has to be “even” (I stepped on one with my right foot first last time, now I have to step on one with my left foot first). I know it’s crazy. Boy do I know it’s crazy. That doesn’t stop me from slapping my own butt cheek, however, if my wife nonchalantly slapped one cheek without slapping the other. When it gets out of control, this particular mental illness is very frustrating, as you can imagine. Not just for me, but for people trying to watch television when I have to pass the channel I was switching to so I can press the “down” channel button since I’ve been pressing the “up” button. Thankfully, this one is managed fairly well with medication. It’s absurd, I know. Still, it’s very, very real. If you have symptoms of OCD, and you’re embarrassed to get help — SEE A DOCTOR. Yes, it embarrassed the crap out of me to tell a sane, rational doctor that I had to slap my own unbalanced butt cheek — but he prescribed medicine (a small dose even), and it works. It was worth it.

Anxiety – This is the one I still attribute to the car accident. After my accident, I had such horrible anxiety (and Agoraphobia, a common bedfellow of anxiety) I almost couldn’t function. I wasn’t afraid of anything in particular, except for maybe that I was going crazy. I really only have issues with anxiety when I’m in a crowded room for too long, or if I’m particularly mentally exhausted. If you see me at a party looking particularly nutso, it’s safe to assume my brain is overwhelmed, and I’m currently certain the world is about to end. Or explode. Or I’m going to explode. Or everyone is out to get me. Or that I’m part of an intricate television show where everyone watches me and knows all my secrets. (I don’t even have good secrets, so I suspect the show will get canceled after the first season, especially if it’s on FOX) The good news is that medicine helps here too. I’m told that counseling really helps too, but thanks to insurance issues after my accident, I never spoke to a counselor. I should probably do that now, but it’s not like I have this mental illness thing all figured out. It’s still embarrassing, and what if the counselor uncovers some secret past of mine, and finds out I’m really a serial killer. Or spy. Or Libertarian. But really. If you have anxiety, see someone. At least your doctor. Drugs aren’t always the answer, but they’re almost always *part* of the answer.

Depression – I don’t very often suffer from depression. Part of that is because my OCD/Anxiety medication also treats depression. (Remember I said they’re all related?) I’m actually very thankful that this is the one I struggle with the least, because it’s the most scary. When I get depressed, I get really, really depressed. And when you’re really, really depressed, you don’t want to get help. You don’t want to do anything. You don’t want to BE. I’m going to be very transparent here, even though it scares the crap out of me. When I’m in a valley of depression, I’m pretty sure I only hang on because of the people I care about. The depression would have me believe that everyone would be better off without me. Because dealing with a depressed person is HARD. It’s painful for me to see how much it hurts my family when I’m depressed. And it feels like it’s all my fault, because, well, it’s ME! I keep going because of the truth that I’ve told myself over and over when I’m *not* depressed; depression lies.

Depression lies.

It gets its own paragraph because it’s so simple, but so, so important. Dealing with a clinically depressed person *is* really difficult for those around them. Heck, dealing with a grumpy person is difficult. But that’s NOTHING compared to dealing with the loss of someone you love. I don’t know this first hand, thankfully, but I know others who do. I know that when my wife struggles with her own form of mental illness (it’s not my story to tell, so don’t ask), it’s very difficult to be the loved one. But never, ever ever ever is dealing with someone’s struggles worse than dealing with the loss of them.

There is medicine that helps with depression. It’s not magic, and it’s can even lose its effectiveness after a while. If you have issues with depression, please talk to your doctor. You should probably seek counseling too, but at the very least, talk to your doctor about it. There is help available, and it’s NOT a sign of weakness to ask for help. Holy crap it’s the opposite. It’s SO HARD to ask for help, that doing so is a victory in and of itself.

So that’s my schtick on mental illness. I have it, in spades. It affects my life on a day to day basis too, in more ways than just the TV remote thing. I’ll try to post some more this month about it, because I’d rather embarrass myself a bit than to have someone think it’s shameful to have issues. If you get nothing else from this post, just remember, depression lies. It really, really does.

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On Vacations and Social Media https://brainofshawn.com/2015/03/12/on-vacations-and-social-media/ https://brainofshawn.com/2015/03/12/on-vacations-and-social-media/#comments Thu, 12 Mar 2015 15:42:14 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2132 My family is blessed, and starting next Friday, we’ll be taking a trip to Florida. This is our second family vacation, which makes it less unique than last year (our first ever family vacation), but no less exciting. It’s forced me to think quite a bit about vacation and social media, however. I imagine that ... Read more

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Vacation CountdownMy family is blessed, and starting next Friday, we’ll be taking a trip to Florida. This is our second family vacation, which makes it less unique than last year (our first ever family vacation), but no less exciting. It’s forced me to think quite a bit about vacation and social media, however.

I imagine that we’ll be taking lots of photos, and sharing them via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and whatever other social media outlet is currently the rage. What bothers me a bit is that “vacation” isn’t something everyone gets to do. My eldest daughter will be 18 next month, and for the first 17 years of her life, she never got to take a family vacation. Most of that lifetime existed outside of social media. How would she have felt to see others enjoying Disney, Universal, palm trees and beaches year after year while her Spring Breaks meant merely sleeping in a little bit and then doing spring cleaning around the house?

Yes, I know it’s a first world problem. But I’m curious what everyone thinks about sharing vacation excitement on social media, understanding how it might make friends and family who can’t afford (or don’t have time) to go. I realized today that my Facebook avatar (is it even called an avatar anymore? Profile pic maybe?) is me under a palm tree last year during vacation. Has that been a year-long brag?

Anyway, it’s something I’m battling. Should we try to keep the vacation posts to a minimum? Does that make it seem like we’re ashamed of our vacation? (we’re not) Do palm tree and Mickey Mouse photos upset those folks stuck home on Spring Break cleaning frozen dog poop out of their lawns? I don’t have an answer. Just thinking out loud.

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Running: A Little Perspective (And Thank You @Oatmeal!) https://brainofshawn.com/2014/12/07/running-a-little-perspective-and-thank-you-oatmeal/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/12/07/running-a-little-perspective-and-thank-you-oatmeal/#comments Mon, 08 Dec 2014 03:50:12 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2126 I got frustrated with myself tonight. I was planning on running a full 5K. I figured I’d already run 2 miles straight, and rather than move to 3, I’d just go to 3.1 and get an official 5K. But I failed, and didn’t run a full 5K. Then I realized: I just ran 2.1 miles. ... Read more

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I did this on purposeI got frustrated with myself tonight. I was planning on running a full 5K. I figured I’d already run 2 miles straight, and rather than move to 3, I’d just go to 3.1 and get an official 5K. But I failed, and didn’t run a full 5K.

Then I realized: I just ran 2.1 miles. Two days ago I ran 2 miles, and that was the farthest I’d ever run in my entire life. EVER. So this evening I can either focus on failing to run 5K, or going BAT CRAP CRAZY over beating my lifetime record TWO DAYS after setting it! Heck, after walking for 5 minutes, I ran ANOTHER QUARTER MILE before my cool down. I know, that’s a lot of caps, but dog-gonnit I should be proud of myself, not frustrated for the lack-of-5K-ness.

Someday I’ll run a 5K straight. And then a 10K. I even plan to delve into the half and full marathon distance someday. Based on everything I’ve read, however, it will never be as hard as it is RIGHT NOW. Seriously. So self? YOU ARE AMAZING. You just ran 2.1 miles nonstop. You pushed through that spot at a mile and a half when you thought you were going to pass out. You managed to find the “zone” at about 1.75 miles. And it was only one short week ago you managed to run a single mile. That’s incredible progress. And not being able to run a 5K means you haven’t even gotten to the point when running is fun!

Oh, and the “Oatmeal” thing in the subject line? Go buy his book. It’s funny, awesome, inspirational, and more encouraging that he can possibly imagine.

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Dropping Chocolate https://brainofshawn.com/2014/11/18/dropping-chocolate/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/11/18/dropping-chocolate/#comments Wed, 19 Nov 2014 04:28:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2123 This evening, Donna and I were driving home from dinner out with friends. It was snowing pretty hard, and we were at the intersection of a wide, busy road. Donna warned me of car coming from her side, and then after it passed I gunned the gas pedal to get out on the road quickly. ... Read more

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This evening, Donna and I were driving home from dinner out with friends. It was snowing pretty hard, and we were at the intersection of a wide, busy road. Donna warned me of car coming from her side, and then after it passed I gunned the gas pedal to get out on the road quickly. (My new truck is the first 4 wheel drive vehicle I’ve ever owned, so I was admittedly playing a bit)

As I’m turning left across the 4 lanes very quickly, Donna says in a frustrated tone, “Oh man, you made me drop chocolate!”

There was an awkward silence.

I responded, “You mean, like, you pooped?”

I assumed my rapid turn scared her, and she was creatively claiming I scared the crap out of her. I didn’t really think she pooped herself, but I’d never heard someone say they “dropped chocolate” before. It turns out I was very wrong.

“What?!?! No. I was eating a piece of delicious dark chocolate, and you took off so fast I dropped it!”

If you listen close, you can probably still hear me laughing. 🙂

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Health Update: 5 Months Later https://brainofshawn.com/2014/09/15/health-update-5-months-later/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/09/15/health-update-5-months-later/#comments Mon, 15 Sep 2014 15:36:06 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2117 I’ve posted on Twitter & Facebook as I’ve progressed over the past few months, but I haven’t really put all the information together in a “greater than 140 character” post. So here’s the update for all those folks who are curious. My Kidneys Are No Better This is depressing. I ate as healthy as a ... Read more

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I’ve posted on Twitter & Facebook as I’ve progressed over the past few months, but I haven’t really put all the information together in a “greater than 140 character” post. So here’s the update for all those folks who are curious.

My Kidneys Are No Better
This is depressing. I ate as healthy as a human being can eat, never cheated, and lost 40+ pounds. I also drank enough water to support several small lakes. Unfortunately, when my blood was rechecked after 4 months, it hadn’t improved even slightly. BUT. My kidneys also didn’t get any worse, which made the doctor quite happy. It made me happy too, but I was hoping for some drastic, never before seen improvement.

I Still Have 20 Pounds To Lose
I’m to the point where everyone says, “Oh, you look amazing, you don’t need to lose any more weight!” That’s really kind, but I’m still a tad into the “overweight” section of the BMI scale, and I’d like to be in the middle of the “healthy” area. So 20 more pounds.

My Cholesterol Is Oddly High
Mind you, I ate broccoli, beans, and fruit for 4 months. My cholesterol should be comically low. But it’s actually high. I’m guessing that before I lost the weight, my cholesterol was freakishly high and I just didn’t know it. So along with the 20 pounds to lose, I need to exercise daily in order to get my cholesterol numbers down. Due to my diligence concerning my health, the doctor didn’t put me on cholesterol medicine — just assigned me daily exercise. I plan to “take my medicine” so to speak. (I actually need to raise HDL or something like that, cholesterol confuses me)

I Have To Monitor My Blood Pressure Like A Crazy Man
Keeping my blood pressure low is one of the biggest keys to staying alive for a long time. I’ve had my medicine adjusted a couple times already, and as I continue to lose weight and exercise, it will probably have to be adjusted more in the future. My part in the equation is to monitor my blood pressure VERY closely. Because I know myself, and know that I’d be bad at recording such things — I just ordered a Withings blood pressure cuff. It automatically uploads the readings and keeps a record of times/pressure/pulse that I can send off to the doctor in an email. Pretty slick actually. It’s also a cool technology toy, so I look forward to the monitoring more than I did before. 🙂

My Diet Isn’t Crazy. Just Reasonable.
I’m no longer on a super strict, low sodium, low protein, low grain, low carb, vegan diet. Due to kidney problems, I have to try for low protein and low sodium, but I can once again eat human food. This is a nice change, but will likely slow down the weight loss. 🙂

I. Can. Have. Caffeine. Again.
I asked the doctor on a whim, because winter is coming, and I can’t imagine the winter season without tea. Decaf coffee is bad enough, in that it doesn’t really taste bad, it’s just that the best decaf pales in comparison with really good coffee. If you think I’m wrong, you’ve never had really good coffee. Just sayin. Decaf tea, on the other hand, is vile. The only tolerable decaf tea I’ve ever had is PG Tips Decaf. But it gets old quick, and is just plain grocery store tea — not something to depend on for the long, cold winter. I’m allowed a moderate amount of caffeine (2-3 cups), and I immediately asked about drinking more than that. My only stipulation for consuming more is that I drink lots of water too. I’m TOTALLY OK with that arrangement. So, the caffeine fast is over!!!

All in all, I’m doing pretty well. I think this health crisis has been good in that it has forced me to be more aware of my general health. I’ll be thinner, healthier, and most likely happier thanks to the forced lifestyle that is keeping me alive. Now if you’ll excuse me, my Breville One Touch Tea Maker just beeped…

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In Which I Make a Fool of Myself for a Good Cause https://brainofshawn.com/2014/05/21/in-which-i-make-a-fool-of-myself-for-a-good-cause/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/05/21/in-which-i-make-a-fool-of-myself-for-a-good-cause/#respond Wed, 21 May 2014 14:55:04 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2109 Tomorrow is it. With all my crazy health problems of late, I haven’t done anywhere close to the fundraising I hoped to do, but regardless — tomorrow I’ll be golfing 50 holes. Again due to the health stuff, I haven’t been to a driving range, so my first golf swing attempt will be on the ... Read more

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Tomorrow is it. With all my crazy health problems of late, I haven’t done anywhere close to the fundraising I hoped to do, but regardless — tomorrow I’ll be golfing 50 holes. Again due to the health stuff, I haven’t been to a driving range, so my first golf swing attempt will be on the course tomorrow. Yikes. 🙂

What am I golfing for exactly? I’m glad you asked, even if you really didn’t. Hehehhe.

  • Harbor Light Christian Schools is an independent, non-denominational school. It shares a name and building with a church, but is not actually a church ministry. It’s completely separate.
  • I’ve seen HLCS transform my kids. In a good way. Yes, it provides a Christian education as one would expect, but it does so much more that I honestly never expected:
    • It’s given my kids a safe place to learn who they are. No bullying. No ostracizing for being “weird”. No judgement based on background.
    • Even with a district size of under 100 students (K-12!), my girls have all played multiple sports, competing successfully with schools 10 times their size. Heck, Lizzie (a 7th grader) made a double play the other day on the varsity softball team against a school at LEAST 10 times their size.
    • The student/teacher ratio is such that teachers form a personal, sincere, and direct relationship with the kids. This means students can’t get away with fluffing off, because the teacher will follow through with contacting parents and arranging extra help if needed.
    • It’s also shocking for me to see families of drastically different Christian denominations not only exist together, but excel in making each other better Christians, and better people. In fact, the differences at Harbor Light are one of the biggest strengths. When we learn to get along and agree on commonalities, it helps everyone relate to the rest of the world better. Getting rid of the “us/them” mindset is so healthy, and it happens every day.

 

But tuition is so, so expensive for a private school. Even in our economically depressed area of northern Michigan, it’s not uncommon for tuition prices for Christian schools to hover around the $10,000 per year range. While in other parts of the country that is a paltry amount to pay for tuition at a private school, up here, it makes it unreachable for the majority of families.

And so, golf.

Harbor Light does an incredible amount of fundraising. So much so, that for a top notch, parochial education, the base tuition is reduced to around $5,600 per student. PLUS, there are incentives (half off for the first year, things like that), scholarships, and tuition forgiveness that takes place every year. No one gets rich educating students at Harbor Light Christian School, but student’s lives are enriched beyond measure.

I could go on and on about the specific things HLCS does to benefit the community and world, but I’ll save that for another day. Giving families the ability to provide their children with a top notch academic education, while at the same time teaching them to exist peacefully and productively around others of differing world views is priceless. So, I agreed to participate in this golf marathon. My goal is/was to raise $1,500 to offset tuition prices next year. Again, due to my recent health concerns, I haven’t been able to beat the bushes for support, which is very unfortunate. If you’d like to contribute, even a small amount, I would be grateful. If you’re unable to contribute financially, please either pray for HLCS, or at the very least ponder how amazing it is to raise a generation of young Christians who understand how to get along with people of varying faith systems.

Here’s a link to my contribution page if you’re interested in donating. Thanks for reading. 🙂

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A Fairly Scary Health Update https://brainofshawn.com/2014/04/30/a-fairly-scary-health-update/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/04/30/a-fairly-scary-health-update/#comments Wed, 30 Apr 2014 18:32:36 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2106 I’m not famous, but my jobs past and present have given the opportunity to have a large number of online friends who genuinely care about my wellbeing. I pour my heart into the things I do (which sounds odd for someone in a technical field), and countless people support me, defend me, and protect me ... Read more

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I’m not famous, but my jobs past and present have given the opportunity to have a large number of online friends who genuinely care about my wellbeing. I pour my heart into the things I do (which sounds odd for someone in a technical field), and countless people support me, defend me, and protect me from the big bad wolves of the Internet.

So when something significant happens in my life, people often want to know. It’s not a creepy invasion of privacy, or a juicy tidbit for gossip around the watercooler, but rather real people genuinely concerned about my wellbeing. That’s incredibly humbling, just so you all know. And so I want to give an update, because I think it’s better than leaving people wondering. Plus, I truly appreciate the wellwishes, prayers, and encouragement. ANYWAY:

This week I went to the doctor because I have a pain in my abdomen in about the spot my gallbladder lives. I’m about the right age, the right (over)weight, and the right skin-tone to be a likely candidate for a faulty gallbladder. So I had a blood test, a urine test, and an ultrasound. When the tests came back, my gallbladder looks OK. It’s not perfect, but it doesn’t appear to be full of stones or anything.

My liver and kidneys, on the other hand, appear to have issues. That’s fairly shocking, as I haven’t had any symptoms related to kidney or liver, but the tests came back with issues. My liver is fatty, and is stressed, but is still functioning well. So for that, I need to lose weight, and things should improve. My kidneys, however, appear to be in really bad shape. I don’t have the specific numbers, but the numbers that are supposed to be low are very high, and the number that is supposed to be high is very low. In fact, the test were so unsettling, that the doctor referral slip had “Acute Renal Failure” written on it. I didn’t realize the severity of things until I saw that. Scary sounding, no?

So far I’ve consulted with 3 doctors, and the next step is to get an ultrasound of my kidneys to check blood flow. Then I need to hydrate REALLY well for a few days, and get my blood/urine retested. My close friends have been urging me to go immediately to a specialist, and I understand that mentality — but this short-term plan makes sense to me. The initial tests may have been skewed, partially because:

  • I have no symptoms of renal failure.
  • I have been hitting the Couch-2-5K program HARD, doing a new run every day, instead of 3/week.
  • It’s possible I was dehydrated and didn’t realize it.
  • Only my blood test showed issues, my urine test (on the next day) was fine.

 

One of the doctors consulted specializes in sports medicine, and he’s seen an intense workout regimen combined with insufficient hydration cause test results similar to mine. (so, a false positive) If my next tests still show problems with kidney function, I will do what it takes to get the best treatment I can. I know kidneys are nothing to mess with, and I’m not ignoring the issue. I promise. 🙂

I’ll update everyone as I learn more.

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Sucking Sucks, A Runners Tale https://brainofshawn.com/2014/04/20/sucking-sucks-a-runners-tale/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/04/20/sucking-sucks-a-runners-tale/#comments Sun, 20 Apr 2014 23:24:48 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2100 Today is the 7th run on my path to running a 5K. It’s my 4th day straight, which is pretty cool. I hope to continue with my daily runs, even if they’re small runs. Building up that habit is something I’ll be really proud of. But… I really suck at running. No really, that’s not a ... Read more

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Be thankful it's not smell-o-vision...

Today is the 7th run on my path to running a 5K. It’s my 4th day straight, which is pretty cool. I hope to continue with my daily runs, even if they’re small runs. Building up that habit is something I’ll be really proud of. But…

I really suck at running.

No really, that’s not a false humility sorta thing. I’m not fishing for compliments. But today was the first time I had to jog 3 minutes straight. Oh. My. Word. It’s unbelievable how difficult it was to stay trudging along at 5MPH for 3 consecutive minutes.

I have friends who are “runners”, and I often see them talk about the “short 5 mile run” they took that morning. Or, “it was rough between miles 6-8, but the last 7 were smooth.” I’m really happy for them, and it’s cool they can run like that. The problem is, if I look at the math, at my current rate of improvement, it will take approximately 6 millennia for me to get to that level of ability.

I know, I’m just whining now, but I’m not even running! I almost died from jogging for 3 minutes. It’s difficult to imagine jogging an entire 5K, much less running that far. And taking a “short 5 mile run” any time in the foreseeable future? Ugh.

Anyone else have a difficult time imagining themselves as real “runners”? I sure do…

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Where I’m From… https://brainofshawn.com/2014/03/26/where-im-from/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/03/26/where-im-from/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 15:02:04 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2097 While the neighborhood is pretty rough, and half the houses in the area are burned and gone, the house I grew up in is still standing. Google Maps is a pretty cool thing. 🙂

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While the neighborhood is pretty rough, and half the houses in the area are burned and gone, the house I grew up in is still standing. Google Maps is a pretty cool thing. 🙂

Just click to browse around my old neighborhood
Just click to browse around my old neighborhood

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Asthma: The Secret I Didn’t Know https://brainofshawn.com/2014/03/26/asthma-the-secret-i-didnt-know/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/03/26/asthma-the-secret-i-didnt-know/#comments Wed, 26 Mar 2014 13:10:55 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2092 I’ve had asthma most of my life. When I was younger, the doctor never diagnosed it, so unfortunately my lungs are full of scar tissue from a childhood full of wheezing and gasping. (My mom feels really bad about this, BTW, but it’s not even a little bit her fault — the doctor should have ... Read more

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I’ve had asthma most of my life. When I was younger, the doctor never diagnosed it, so unfortunately my lungs are full of scar tissue from a childhood full of wheezing and gasping. (My mom feels really bad about this, BTW, but it’s not even a little bit her fault — the doctor should have figured it out. My mom has since become a nurse, I suspect partially due to that feeling of helplessness regarding my childhood, but who knows.)

Anyway, the doctors measure my lung capacity at 70-80% what it should be, plus I still have exercise induced asthma attacks. Thus, running has always, ALWAYS sucked. And I mean sucked. If you’re a runner, I urge you to try running while wearing a snorkel filled with cotton. Your body is tired and your muscles ache due to lack of oxygen. And your lungs? Oh God your lungs. “Burn” doesn’t really describe the feeling, it’s more like trying to breathe honey through a straw which is filled with angry, stinging bees.

Running sucked.

It’s important to note the past tense in that last sentence, however. About a year ago I was at the doctor for something routine, and asked for a refill on my Albuterol inhaler. He asked me how well the inhaler was working, and I told him that I was still alive, so I called it a win. He recommended I use my inhaler 20-30 minutes BEFORE exercising, rather than as a reaction to an asthma attack, to see if it might prevent the attack from starting in the first place. Oh. My. Word. He changed my life. Seriously. So I said all that to say this:

If you have asthma, and you never knew to use your inhaler before exercising, DO IT!

I can run now. I’m slow, I’m fat, my joints ache, and I get short of breath — but that’s like a walk in a meadow of flowers compared to how it used to be. Now, the more I run, the better I get. It has NEVER been like that before. I wish I could tell my old self to do that simple preemptive couple of puffs. But if even one person reads this and learns that thing I never knew, it will be totally worth it.

Breathing is awesome. 🙂

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Valentine’s Day 2014 https://brainofshawn.com/2014/02/14/valentines-day-2014/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/02/14/valentines-day-2014/#comments Fri, 14 Feb 2014 18:45:09 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2089 The post Valentine’s Day 2014 appeared first on The Brain of Shawn.

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A Conversation With My Wife https://brainofshawn.com/2014/01/27/a-conversation-with-my-wife/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/01/27/a-conversation-with-my-wife/#comments Mon, 27 Jan 2014 18:55:38 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2083 While driving, my audiobook is interrupted by a phone call from my wife. (All hands free, for those concerned) ————- Donna: Twitter doesn’t give me enough characters to write the school’s entire name in the “Full Name” field when I try to create an account. Me: How close is it? Donna: “Harbor Light Christi” Me: ... Read more

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Me and my sweetyWhile driving, my audiobook is interrupted by a phone call from my wife. (All hands free, for those concerned)

————-

Donna: Twitter doesn’t give me enough characters to write the school’s entire name in the “Full Name” field when I try to create an account.

Me: How close is it?

Donna: “Harbor Light Christi”

Me: Hmm… How about “Harbor Light HLCS?”

Donna: That fits, cool! Thanks!

Me: No problem. What’s the username?

Donna: @harborlight3

Me: What? That’s a horrible username…

Donna: That’s what it suggested.

Me: But… It’s horrible! Make it something like @HLCS or if that’s take @HLCS_Swordsmen

Donna: Oh that’s much better, and it’s not taken, cool!

Donna: “sword3f86gg55e”

Me: That’s worse than “harborlight3”, what’s wrong with @HLCS_Swordsmen?

Donna: No, that’s the password I used.

Me: YOU SAID IT OUT LOUD?!??!?!

Donna: Well yes, but only to you on the phone.

Me: But, what if someone overheard you?

Donna: How would they know what I was talking about? You didn’t even know, and I was talking to you!

Me: Still, doesn’t it cause you pain to say a password OUT LOUD?

Donna: Um, no…

Me: Wait… Wait… Did you say it out loud while you were WRITING IT ON PAPER?

Donna: Of course! I have to write it down so I can read it when I need to log in!

Me: You know I’m a system administrator and trainer, and that I deal with computer security every day, right?

Donna: So you’re gonna hack me?

Me: I don’t think I can talk to you anymore.

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So, I Went to the Emergency Room… https://brainofshawn.com/2014/01/08/so-i-went-to-the-emergency-room/ https://brainofshawn.com/2014/01/08/so-i-went-to-the-emergency-room/#comments Thu, 09 Jan 2014 01:39:52 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2076 Based on the photo, you might think I went for mental health issues. While some days perhaps I should go for mental health issues, today I went for another reason. It’s an embarrassing reason, but I want to write about it, because going was the right thing to do, even though it really felt foolish. ... Read more

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This is a normal dayBased on the photo, you might think I went for mental health issues. While some days perhaps I should go for mental health issues, today I went for another reason. It’s an embarrassing reason, but I want to write about it, because going was the right thing to do, even though it really felt foolish.

I had the symptoms of a heart attack.

A little back story might be in order, and my tweet tells the humorous version of the story (normally where I’d stop, because funny is funny):

It's funny because it's sad...

See, at 10AM, I tried to back out of the driveway with my city-folk car. If I had a truck, it wouldn’t be a problem to back out of a driveway, but my fancy new car has a 2mm clearance off the ground, and gets stuck in a glob of snot. So, I shoveled with angry-man frustration for 2 full hours. It hurt, I could barely breathe, and was drenched in sweat — but dag-nabbit I got the car out by myself. (no one else was home, plus I’m a stubborn old mule)

Anyway, after countless puffs on my inhaler, a very long, warm shower, and a pity nap in my recliner — I still didn’t feel any better. In fact, at 5:00PM, I had the following symptoms:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Ache in left shoulder shooting up my neck
  • Hours of nausea
  • Foggy headed, general feeling of malaise

 

And so I figured it was about time I made sure I wasn’t having a heart attack. I didn’t really think I was having a heart attack, but I had the symptoms, and more importantly, I have this:

Not the horse. I don't what the horse thinks.

So I went. And it turns out I’m OK. The EKG showed no problems at all. The breathing issue is most likely due to my chronic asthma, so I got a breathing treatment and was sent home. But really, it was embarrassing. I felt like a fool when everything was fine. I keep second guessing myself for going to the hospital when everything was OK.

But I’m 38, overweight, sedentary, and have a long history of health problems.

So I went.

And if you have the symptoms of heart attack, YOU SHOULD GO TOO. And if the doctor or nurse makes you feel foolish for coming in? THEY’RE NOT GOOD DOCTORS OR NURSES. But you’re a good person, and I applaud you.

PS: I should have called 911 instead of driving MYSELF to the hospital since I was home alone. But driving yourself is better than not going. Still, you really shouldn’t drive yourself. I’m an idiot.

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Letting Go https://brainofshawn.com/2013/12/08/letting-go/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/12/08/letting-go/#comments Mon, 09 Dec 2013 01:50:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2070 I have very few regrets. Sure there are the dumb physical things I’ve done that I wish I hadn’t. For example, I really wish I hadn’t ridden shotgun on a four-wheeler down a hill named “Shaboom” when I was in high school. The crushed spine I ended up with hurts fairly often, even 20+ years ... Read more

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I have very few regrets. Sure there are the dumb physical things I’ve done that I wish I hadn’t. For example, I really wish I hadn’t ridden shotgun on a four-wheeler down a hill named “Shaboom” when I was in high school. The crushed spine I ended up with hurts fairly often, even 20+ years later. I also wish I hadn’t torn the nerve in my index finger working on a dishwasher, around the same time, when I was in high school. I can’t feel properly with the tip of my finger now, and when I touch the outside edge, I feel it on the inside edge. Very strange. At the end of the day, however, I don’t have any serious regrets that I worry have ruined my life in any significant way.

Well, until recently.

Have you heard of Bitcoins? I have. In fact, back before anyone knew what they were, I was mining them. I mined thousands and thousands of them. I traded them for cash, and bought Christmas presents a couple years back. Heck, a year ago, I cashed in a couple thousand to get the money we needed to move to Grand Rapids. Then, when we moved back this past summer, I cashed in every last Bitcoin I could scrape together in order to move back. I never regretted using Bitcoins, because it was “free money” so to speak. (There was a cost, but I cashed in enough to cover that long ago)

Then, Bitcoins got popular. And I mean really popular. The same Bitcoins I cashed in for pennies were suddenly worth $200! Even more recently, the coins I cashed it at $2 each (when we moved), were worth $1200! And I had none. Not one. Granted, when we needed money for moving, or for Christmas, it was nice to have them. But had I saved them? We’d have tens of millions of dollars now. Tens. Of. Millions.

sigh
A typical week’s transaction log, but showing today’s value.

Yes, I’m still mining. I took time off for the past 6 months after we moved back, because I couldn’t afford the electricity (that’s the cost to create Bitcoins, electricity usage), but I’m mining again. Thanks to the way Bitcoin works, its popularity means that my efforts are far less profitable. My mining rigs earn about $4 a day now. It’s the time of year that many of us, at least I, think about money. Christmas is expensive, and all the moving, career changing, etc., has taken us to the bottom of the barrel. Those Bitcoins would be awful nice…

I’m having a hard time letting it go. That’s really unlike me, as I have so much to be grateful for in life. Perhaps it’s just that I’ve never had any real regrets, and now that I do, I don’t quite know how to deal with it. Thus this post. I’m a writer, and writing is how I deal with things. I figure it’s better than drowning my woes in a bottle of Scotch. 🙂

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays, everyone. Try to live in the moment, and not dwell on the past. I’ll do the same. 🙂

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Advances in BirdTopia https://brainofshawn.com/2013/10/04/advances-in-birdtopia/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/10/04/advances-in-birdtopia/#respond Fri, 04 Oct 2013 15:36:13 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2056 I warned you I’d be posting about birds. 🙂 One of the problems with having BirdTopia so close to my office window, is that when I move, it scares the birds away. My solution for this was to buy one-way mirror film to put on my window. After installing it (a real pain, btw), I ... Read more

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I warned you I’d be posting about birds. 🙂

One of the problems with having BirdTopia so close to my office window, is that when I move, it scares the birds away. My solution for this was to buy one-way mirror film to put on my window. After installing it (a real pain, btw), I of course danced like an idiot to see if I could scare the birds. I could not.

But.

The film makes it really hard to see, especially on a day like today, where it’s overcast and rainy. So I compromised:

Now you see me...

The bottom of the window is mirrored, so the window ledge birds can’t see inside. (The birds in the yard also can’t see Zoey stare longingly at them, since her head is window-sill high) Now it’s possible to sneak, but it’s also still possible to see the birdies clearly. Win/win? We’ll see. 🙂

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Just Call Me Chronic https://brainofshawn.com/2013/09/17/just-call-me-chronic/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/09/17/just-call-me-chronic/#comments Tue, 17 Sep 2013 18:34:22 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2050 Today is a brand new day. Well, ok, it’s not really brand new, it’s been around for a while as it’s after 2PM. Still, it’s the newest day we have. For me, that means moving past the last 3 months of horrible pain. Mid June, I was a typical guy, and didn’t wait for any ... Read more

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Today is a brand new day. Well, ok, it’s not really brand new, it’s been around for a while as it’s after 2PM. Still, it’s the newest day we have. For me, that means moving past the last 3 months of horrible pain.

Mid June, I was a typical guy, and didn’t wait for any help when it came to loading our moving truck. I was the first to arrive at our rental, and so loaded the entire trailer by myself. Including furniture. This was stupid, and so the following week when I started having really bad pain in my, um, well, down there, I was fairly certain I’d given myself a hernia. Because apparently I’m not a spring chicken anymore.

The short version of the following 3 months is that I saw a doctor, a surgeon, a specialist, and basically no one knows what’s wrong with me. Two of the doctors insist I don’t have a hernia. One thinks I do. None of them can explain why I feel like I just got kicked between the legs by a mule pretty much all day, every day. If you’ve never been kicked between the legs by a mule, let me assure you, it’s something you’d like to move past rather quickly. Three months is not quickly.

So the specialist I saw yesterday told me to just wait and see. He thinks I’ll eventually heal, but doesn’t find anything he can treat. This is a good thing, because it means he didn’t find any cancer, tumors, baby aliens gestating in my groin, or other medically fixable stuff. The bad thing is that he can’t find anything to fix. Double edged sword. BUT, he told me I have no restrictions, and that I should just get on with my life. One doctor talked about pain management drugs, but I don’t want to be that guy if I can avoid it. So, brand new day. As of today, life should be treated as normal. If a decade and a half of migraines have done nothing else, it’s given me a fairly decent pain tolerance, so I’m just going to deal.

So if you ask how I’m doing? I’m fine. No, it doesn’t mean I’m healed, but it means I’m tired of being out of commission. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go for a walk. It’s been 3 months, and I’m overdue. 🙂

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New House, Old Yard https://brainofshawn.com/2013/09/11/new-house-old-yard/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/09/11/new-house-old-yard/#comments Wed, 11 Sep 2013 21:32:24 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2026 Due to drastic career changes, our previous relocation to Grand Rapids, MI has been rescinded, and we’re back in our home up in Indian River. Since we were never able to sell our home, moving into the home we still own is actually rather nice. I far prefer one house payment to two. 🙂 Now ... Read more

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Due to drastic career changes, our previous relocation to Grand Rapids, MI has been rescinded, and we’re back in our home up in Indian River. Since we were never able to sell our home, moving into the home we still own is actually rather nice. I far prefer one house payment to two. 🙂

Now that we’re back up north, permanently as far as we can tell, we need to do something about our landscaping. After our home burned down a few years back, we never landscaped around the replacement home. And while the septic drain field being in the front yard means we have lovely green grass:

100_3814.JPG

We have nothing done to the house itself to make it look nice:

100_3815.JPG

Yes, the deck has a couple of shrubs, and in the summer had some flowers, but let’s face it, this is just sad. Unfortunately, when I had a landscaper come out, he wasn’t help AT ALL. Since he couldn’t fill our yard with trees (drain field, anything other than tiny ornamental trees are right out), he basically told us we were out of luck.

We’ll probably have to find another landscaping company, and see if they are more imaginative. As it is, we know we want flowers and a small tree, with a nice path along the front… but we have no idea how to plan that, much less build it.

Does anyone else have a drain field in their front yard? How do you go about landscaping when trees are out of the realm of possibility? Are we doomed to an ugly front yard with lush, green grass?

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New Look. New Resolve? https://brainofshawn.com/2013/09/10/new-look-new-resolve/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/09/10/new-look-new-resolve/#comments Tue, 10 Sep 2013 20:08:08 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2024 Like any fallen-off-the-wagon blogger, I’ve decided to commemorate my intention to return to regular (personal) writing by redesigning my site. I think the last time I redesigned my site, I blogged for a week. Now that we’re back up north, with only one house payment, and only two jobs — perhaps I’ll have some time ... Read more

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Like any fallen-off-the-wagon blogger, I’ve decided to commemorate my intention to return to regular (personal) writing by redesigning my site. I think the last time I redesigned my site, I blogged for a week. Now that we’re back up north, with only one house payment, and only two jobs — perhaps I’ll have some time to brain dump online.

Expect lots of news about BirdCam. It’s my latest obsession. 🙂

Here’s to our new life, which is basically a 1 year rewind. Details later…

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The Plant Kingdom Follows Google’s Lead https://brainofshawn.com/2013/03/22/the-plant-kingdom-follows-googles-lead/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/03/22/the-plant-kingdom-follows-googles-lead/#comments Fri, 22 Mar 2013 13:37:42 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=2002 In an unexpected announcement today, the Plant Kingdom spokesman, Fern Dirtlicker, told press, “providing oxygen free of charge no longer fits into our business plan.” When asked if the Plant Kingdom will offer a subscription service, or possibly sell the oxygen manufacturing industry to another company, Fern replied, “Nope. We’re just not going to do ... Read more

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Oh yeah? Well I could survive on Mars...In an unexpected announcement today, the Plant Kingdom spokesman, Fern Dirtlicker, told press, “providing oxygen free of charge no longer fits into our business plan.”

When asked if the Plant Kingdom will offer a subscription service, or possibly sell the oxygen manufacturing industry to another company, Fern replied, “Nope. We’re just not going to do the whole ‘oxygen’ thing anymore. Users are advised to pick a different breathable gas by July 1st, when PK plans to halt distribution.”

Governments are currently negotiating with the International Clown Federation in attempts to reach an agreement on helium balloon usage, but observers noted that talks aren’t going well. The talks are funny to listen to, but they’re not going well. What will humankind do in light of the Plant Kingdom abruptly canceling their cloud-based oxygen service? Hopefully someone will come up with a viable alternative, but we’re not holding our breath. (Well, actually we are)

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I Don’t Truly Admire Many People. Fred Rogers, I Do. https://brainofshawn.com/2013/03/20/i-dont-truly-admire-many-people-fred-rogers-i-do/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/03/20/i-dont-truly-admire-many-people-fred-rogers-i-do/#comments Wed, 20 Mar 2013 14:39:28 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1999 Today would have been Mr. Rogers’ 85th birthday. If you were a child in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, you know Mr. Rogers. Heck, I don’t even remember my childhood, and I still know this man. I look at the fast paced lives my kids are growing up in, and it makes me sad to ... Read more

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Fred RogersToday would have been Mr. Rogers’ 85th birthday. If you were a child in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, you know Mr. Rogers. Heck, I don’t even remember my childhood, and I still know this man.

I look at the fast paced lives my kids are growing up in, and it makes me sad to realize that not only don’t they have the opportunity to watch Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, even if they did, they wouldn’t enjoy it. I honestly believe Fred Rogers did for several generations of kids something that parents, doctors, educators, and even PBS can’t seem to do anymore — make kids feel good about themselves. There are plenty of good, moral television shows available for children today, but none of them are capable of doing what Fred Rogers did with a little bit of kindness, a closet full of sweaters, and a whole lot of imagination.

To be honest, I don’t think it’s the fault of current television programs that they can’t accomplish the same thing Mr. Rogers did. Our media-soaked world is a different place, and for better or worse, lifestyles have changed. The thing that worries me, is that in our technology rich world, nothing seems to have taken the place of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Nothing has been able to speak to the past few generations in the same way a simple man with a soft voice and a kind heart did for so many years.

I’m almost 40 years old now, which is the same age Fred Rogers was when he started his television show. Yes, my mother raised me to be a decent young man, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit how deeply Mr. Rogers affected the man I grew up to be. Heck, I’m probably a writer today because Mr. Rogers told me I could do it.

It sounds melodramatic, but I seriously worry about the kids who grew up with Power Rangers instead of Mr. McFeely and Queen Sara. Hopefully there is an equivalent positive force in the lives of recent generations that I’m simply not privy to. Hopefully with the speed up of our day to day lives, our youth have been able to slow down enough to care about people. Hopefully, they learned to make believe along the way, too.

Perhaps it’s because I grew up without a real father figure. Perhaps it’s because as a nerdy, introverted kid I spent more time in the land of make believe than other kids. Whatever the reason, Fred Rogers is a man I look up to. I admire what he did, I admire who he was, and in the back of my mind, I always try to live in a way that would make him proud of me. Mr. Rogers, I’ll say back to you your own words, “If only you could sense how important you are to the lives of those you meet; how important you can be to people you may never even dream of. There is something of yourself that you leave at every meeting with another person.”

Happy birthday, Mr. Rogers. You’re loved and missed. Thank you for caring about generations of children. You made the world a better place.

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The Defender of the Office Realm https://brainofshawn.com/2013/03/18/the-defender-of-the-office-realm/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/03/18/the-defender-of-the-office-realm/#comments Mon, 18 Mar 2013 14:22:13 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1989   The office realm was a happy place. Mondays came, and Mondays went — but the supply of Monday repellant was always plentiful and hot. But then one foul, foul day, something horrible happened. The Elixir of Promised Fridays disappeared! Knowing the Office Realm could not survive under such dire circumstances, the king decided to ... Read more

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The office realm was a happy place. Mondays came, and Mondays went — but the supply of Monday repellant was always plentiful and hot.

All was good
And it was good.

But then one foul, foul day, something horrible happened. The Elixir of Promised Fridays disappeared!

This bodes not well.
This bodes not well.

Knowing the Office Realm could not survive under such dire circumstances, the king decided to hire a champion to protect his Office from the depression and despair of  an empty cup. The volunteers were many, but the king knew Sir Ibuprofen with the Paper Sword was his best bet against Monday’s onslaught. And so the knight was commissioned.

None shall pass.
None shall pass.

Unfortunately, while Sir Ibuprofen was indeed a valiant fighter, he could only battle evil every 6-8 hours. The king new he needed a champion able to take on enemy after enemy, without the required wait time Sir Ibuprofen demanded. And so, Lord Swingline took the post.

I bind thee villain!
I bind thee villain!

And everyone laughed.

So the king hired a saber toothed stapler, not of noble blood, but far more vicious.

My tooth is stained with the blood of unruly collation!
My tooth is stained with the blood of unruly collation!

Unfortunately, the villagers called OSHA, and the king was required to post signage warning potential thieves of their certain peril.

It was like putting a bell on the collar of a tiger.
It was like putting a bell on the collar of a tiger.

Everyone laughed at the poor saber toothed stapler, and all his staples fell out. Now he lives in the kings bedchamber, and guards against slipper thieves and stocking bandits. The king needed a fierce warrior, and so he scoured the kingdom until he found a sword wielding pod person!

Lord Podbiscuits formerly worked for the post office, opening letters.
Lord Podbiscuits formerly worked for the post office, opening letters.

While a valiant warrior, Lord Podbiscuits annoyed the entire kingdom with his incessant singing. The king even suspected Podbiscuits of drinking the royal elixir, and so had him removed from office.

We stab at thee, appley foe!
We stab at the, appley foe!

Sadly, shortly after the demise of Lord Podbiscuit, all the king’s champions were detained indefinitely by the TSA for attempting to get on a plane with Podbiscuit’s sword. Sir Ibuprofen also insisted he had to be taken on board with 6 ounces of water, and it is suspected the entire group is now in Guantanamo Bay.

Now the king mourns the loss of his champions, and fears for the safety of his realm. Without a hero to protect the Elixir of Promised Fridays, the king fears a curse of Forever Monday. Fearing for himself and his subjects, the king’s only choice is to pray to the chicken gods. (You know, like you do…)

If only there was a chicken strong enough to defend the realm. A chicken whose beak were sharp enough to pierce through the most sinister of evil, yet not be long enough to be considered a weapon by the TSA during kingly jaunts cross country. If such a noble bird existed, one such as Lady Gwenevieve Lockjaw of New Eggland, the realm would once again be safe from the onslaught Monday and all Monday’s henchmen.

The king sent his desperate plea to Queen Klishis of the Metal Birds, and to this day, he awaits her reply…

 

 

 

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The Very Super Powers https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/26/the-very-super-powers/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/26/the-very-super-powers/#comments Sun, 27 Jan 2013 04:24:51 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1980 My family rocks. In fact, they’re the reason I work so hard. These are the people who inspire me to do my best. Heck, I moved my family across the state so these ladies would be guaranteed a university education (free tuition is a perk of my new job).   So is this a post ... Read more

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My family rocks. In fact, they’re the reason I work so hard. These are the people who inspire me to do my best. Heck, I moved my family across the state so these ladies would be guaranteed a university education (free tuition is a perk of my new job).

 

So is this a post about how important it is to work hard for your family? Not even close. This is a reminder (mostly for myself) that the best thing you can possibly do for your family is be there. Yes, providing is important. Yes, my family is my responsibility to  care for. “Providing”, however, means a lot more than “earning money”, and I have to remind myself of that often.

So Moms, Dads, Grandparents and caregivers — don’t miss the goofy smile photos. Don’t miss the board games. Don’t miss singing in the car. And most importantly, don’t miss your kids growing up! It happens fast. 🙂

I’m curious, what are some of your favorite things to do with your family?

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Sometimes Our Autofocus Is Dumb https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/10/sometimes-our-autofocus-is-dumb/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/10/sometimes-our-autofocus-is-dumb/#comments Thu, 10 Jan 2013 17:10:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1966 Let me tell you two different stories: Greg jerked out of his fitful slumber because a cold draft snuck under the covers when his wife got out of bed. After quickly sealing himself back into his burrito-like cocoon, he realized that warm or not, his aching back wouldn’t allow him to sleep. With all the ... Read more

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Photo by Brandon Milner.

Let me tell you two different stories:

Greg jerked out of his fitful slumber because a cold draft snuck under the covers when his wife got out of bed. After quickly sealing himself back into his burrito-like cocoon, he realized that warm or not, his aching back wouldn’t allow him to sleep. With all the angst a 40 year old man can muster, Greg swung his feet out of bed and shoved them into his slippers. One of those slippers was soggy and misshapen, thanks to a set of puppy teeth which were obviously thoroughly lubricated with slobber.

Greg plodded into the kitchen, and scooped himself a bowl of scrambled eggs, which were getting cold in a pan on the stove. After eating his eggs, Greg dressed himself and patiently waited for a chance to use the bathroom. Then he waited some more. And more. Finally he used the bathroom, shaved his face, and relinquished control of the bathroom to the waiting hordes of children.

With a quick kiss for his wife, Greg grabbed his briefcase and walked out to his car. He didn’t have gloves, or any motivation to scrape the ice off the windshield, so he sat in his cold car and shivered while he waited for the defrosters to do their work. After a few minutes, he grabbed the still icy steering wheel, and drove across town where he faced 9 hours of waiting to come home. Or “work” as some people called it.

Now let’s listen to Fred’s morning:

Fred felt a cool breeze on his leg, and woke to find his wife had gotten out of bed early to make breakfast. She didn’t purposefully wake him up, but after the fitful night of sleep, getting out of bed was a welcome change. When he slipped his feet into his slippers, he found one had been thoroughly chewed by the puppy, and was much more absorbent than he realized when it came to dog slobber.

Not wanting to let his slipper incident go unnoticed, Fred clopped into the kitchen and proudly announced, “Now presenting, Sir Squishy Toes of Tasty Slipper Lane. You may all bow and slobber your praises.”

The girls eating breakfast around the table giggled, and Fred noticed they left him a sizable amount of scrambled eggs in the pan, where the ambient heat kept them warm. Knowing what happens to the bathroom when 3 girls and a wife get ready for their day, Fred quickly gobbled down his eggs and tried to be first into the bathroom. Unfortunately, his plans were foiled when he went back for seconds. (The eggs were good!)

After his eggs, Fred waited patiently in the queue outside the bathroom door. He challenged his daughters to a “pee pee dance off”, to see whose dance was the most pathetic. The girls let dad go next. After a quick bathroom break, Fred grabbed his electric razor and released the bathroom to the girly inhabitants of Tasty Slipper Lane. He grabbed his coat and his briefcase, and then looked around the house for his wife. She was waiting for him with a smile, happy to see that after all their years of marriage, a goodbye kiss was more than just habit — he wouldn’t leave the house without the brief moment of intimacy.

Fred smiled as he approached his car, because the frosted windows meant he’d get an extra 5 minutes of audiobook listening in before work. He sat in his car, shivering slightly, and with his hands crammed into his coat pocket he dove into the world of his audiobook. In a few minutes, the car had warmed up enough to drive, so he went to work. Fred shut the car off in the office parking lot just before an exciting scene in the book. It would be something to look forward to on the drive home. But first, there was hot office coffee waiting inside, and Fred was excited to warm up his hands with a mug full of it.

The point is probably painfully obvious. I’m both Greg and Fred, and this was my morning. For me, and I suspect many others, simply focusing on the positive instead of the negative can make a situation drastically different. This morning, I chose to be Fred, and my day has been wonderful. More often than not, I choose to be Greg, and it sets the mood for the entire day.

When you wake up tomorrow morning, try to be Fred. Just once. See how it goes. 🙂

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37.5 Years https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/08/37-5-years/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/08/37-5-years/#comments Tue, 08 Jan 2013 17:15:31 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1960 That’s how long it took before I had to shave my face every day. Since I know guys that had to shave at 12, I refuse to believe this revelation marks me as a “grown up” — I sincerely hope that day never comes. 🙂 For the record, I hate shaving. I’ve never really liked ... Read more

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I am WAY TOO YOUNG for protruding nose hairs...That’s how long it took before I had to shave my face every day. Since I know guys that had to shave at 12, I refuse to believe this revelation marks me as a “grown up” — I sincerely hope that day never comes. 🙂

For the record, I hate shaving. I’ve never really liked it, and apart from a 12 year old boy wanting to be manly, I think I’ve always been perfectly happy with my baby face. But that’s all gone now.

If you aren’t a member of the Hairy Face Cleaving Society, there are basically 3 ways to go:

  1. Use a modern cartridge shaver. This is the route most folks go. The razors can range from pink with moisturizing strips, to 5 bladed steel jobs with a AA battery to provide vibration when face-scraping.
  2. Use an electric shaver. This is the method I currently use. I don’t use it because it offers a clean shave (it doesn’t), I don’t use it because it’s fast (it’s not), I use it because it seems to best hit both “sorta fast” and “notta lotta razor burn” — which is very important to me.
  3. Safety razor with 1940’s handle. This is truly the best method. No really. If you can lather up your pre-warmed face with a soap cake and badger brush, then slowly slide a double-edged razor blade over your throat — you will have the cleanest, razor-burn-freeish shave you’ve ever had.

 

A gift from Kyle. Or perhaps a death threat, I never considered that...

 

Truly, the third method is the best, and by far the cheapest. The only problem is that it takes a long time. It’s also difficult to get dressed and let out the dogs while shaving with a double-edged razor blade. Just sayin. Still, if you’ve ever wanted an amazing shave, follow the advice of my cooler-than-me friend Kyle, and try the old fashioned method. You won’t be sorry.

But you might be late for work. 🙂

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New Year’s Resolutions – 2014 https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/06/new-years-resolutions-2014/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/06/new-years-resolutions-2014/#comments Mon, 07 Jan 2013 03:05:01 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1958 Write a book of fiction, just to see if I can. I’m making this resolution a year in advance so that perhaps I can get my life in order enough that devoting time to writing fiction might be practical. I have plenty of ideas for books, but fleshing them into more than napkin-sized scribbles is ... Read more

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Write a book of fiction, just to see if I can.

I’m making this resolution a year in advance so that perhaps I can get my life in order enough that devoting time to writing fiction might be practical.

I have plenty of ideas for books, but fleshing them into more than napkin-sized scribbles is something beyond my ken. Hopefully reading more books this year (my goal is 24) will help. Hopefully spending this year with the notion of getting my life stabilized a bit will help too. Heck, maybe the boxes in my office will even get unpacked.

Anyway, Dear Next Year Shawn: Write a book man. Quit fantasizing about it, and just do it. Oh, and This Year Shawn? Yeah, help a brother out. You have 12 months.

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Writer’s Block – It’s Not a Dry Well… https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/02/writers-block-its-not-a-dry-well/ https://brainofshawn.com/2013/01/02/writers-block-its-not-a-dry-well/#comments Wed, 02 Jan 2013 18:12:41 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1954 It’s a clogged pipe. I’m a regular sufferer of writer’s block, and for years I had a deep seated fear it meant I had run out of ideas. Or creativity. Or grey matter. Perhaps that’s true, but since that is depressing and impossible to fix, I decided to declare it a total lie. And now ... Read more

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It’s a clogged pipe.

I’m a regular sufferer of writer’s block, and for years I had a deep seated fear it meant I had run out of ideas. Or creativity. Or grey matter. Perhaps that’s true, but since that is depressing and impossible to fix, I decided to declare it a total lie. And now it’s on the Internet, so you KNOW it’s true.

Creativity doesn’t run out, it just gets stopped up a bit. There’s probably an apt analogy about how Drain-O isn’t an ideal fix, and how we often treat mental clogs the same way with alcohol — but I don’t really feel like making such a profound and absurd comparison. Basically, I’m currently cleaning out my pipes. And this is my blog, so both of my readers are stuck with the slimy hair globs of my writer’s clog. You’re welcome.

I’ll leave you with that mental image, and just remind you — if you’re struggling with writing, or creating in general: Creativity doesn’t run out, it just gets clogged up. Write in a journal. Draw a blue duck. Record a podcast about the value of berber carpet. Heck, you can even spew wild claims of psychological understanding as it pertains to creativity on your blog. I know a guy that did that once.

🙂

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The Obligatory Resolutions Post https://brainofshawn.com/2012/12/31/the-obligatory-resolutions-post/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/12/31/the-obligatory-resolutions-post/#comments Mon, 31 Dec 2012 20:43:10 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1950 I’m normally not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. You never hear anything thing about them after about January 2nd, and they’re often unrealistic and too general. As it happens, I’m actually at a point that I need to make some major changes, and I’m also at the point that I actually realize it. It’s ... Read more

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I’m normally not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. You never hear anything thing about them after about January 2nd, and they’re often unrealistic and too general. As it happens, I’m actually at a point that I need to make some major changes, and I’m also at the point that I actually realize it. It’s the perfect storm of resolution-making.  So 2013, while in you I resolve to:

1) Have a month of income in savings by the end of the year.

Some of you think it appalling that we don’t already have this in place, but keep in mind this is building on the, “stop bouncing checks” resolution from some time ago. We make plenty of money, but we suck, absolutely suck, at managing it. The current double house payment (wanna buy a house in Indian River?) exacerbates this problem — but we still make enough money. Just need to handle it better.

2) By the end of 2013, weigh 190 or less.

Thank you all for assuming this isn’t a very big goal, when in reality it’s about a 35 pound goal. Yes yes, I carry my weight well, but it’s to the point that even carrying my weight well isn’t helping much. I look fat unless I wear a muumuu, which not only isn’t an option at work, but also makes a person look fat.

3) Stop missing deadlines.

If you know me from my CBT Nuggets video series, you fully understand this one. It seems my life is always chaotic, and every other week I seem to have Ebola, but nonetheless, I need to get on track with meeting deadlines. For Linux Journal readers, you probably don’t realize this as much — but I suspect the Executive Editor (who is awesome, btw) has considered hiring a contract killer to help motivate me. Let’s just say I have a habit of turning in writing assignments for our monthly magazine over a month late. Do the math, that’s messed up.

So there you have it, the Shawn Powers List of Things He Hopes to Do but Will Probably Mess Up, or the SPLOTHHTDBWPME as I affectionately refer to it. I also hope to read more and stress less, but those are too general, and I already reached my self-enforced limit of 3 resolutions. Happy New Year everyone!

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In Which Shawn Clarifies His Opinion of Westboro Baptist Church https://brainofshawn.com/2012/11/25/in-which-shawn-clarifies-his-opinion-of-westboro-baptist-church/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/11/25/in-which-shawn-clarifies-his-opinion-of-westboro-baptist-church/#comments Sun, 25 Nov 2012 19:42:31 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1939 Perhaps it’s naïveté, perhaps it’s absentmindedness, or perhaps it’s just that people don’t know me as well as I think they do — but yesterday I tweeted something that confused about half the folks who read it: The problem is that I assumed everyone would KNOW I was being completely sarcastic in regards to “thanking” Westboro. ... Read more

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Perhaps it’s naïveté, perhaps it’s absentmindedness, or perhaps it’s just that people don’t know me as well as I think they do — but yesterday I tweeted something that confused about half the folks who read it:

The problem is that I assumed everyone would KNOW I was being completely sarcastic in regards to “thanking” Westboro. I thought my tweet made it clear that in my family discussion, I used the comparison that “Westboro is to Christians as Al Qaeda is to Muslims.”

I wanted my kids to realize that by assuming all Muslims are evil like Al Qaeda, they’re using the same logic that all Christians are as hateful and evil as Westboro Baptist Church. Unfortunately, not everyone understood what I meant. This includes one of the crazy whackjobs from that “church” as well, since I was retweeted by one of the Phelps guys. (And not the cool Phelps, who swims really fast)

So when I started getting nasty (concerned) emails and facebook messages, I clarified on twitter:

But still, the thought that I’d be associated with WBC in any way other than disgust and disapproval was so reprehensible, I felt a blog post was appropriate. And a shower. And a nice long vomit.

I’ll leave you with a little bit of encouragement in regards to WBC, which I originally read on John Scalzi’s website. It posits that the entire WBC “thing” is nothing more than a money-making scam. That at least makes sense, as I can accept people being scamming scumbags. Human beings actually believing the stuff they say? That’s harder to comprehend.

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The Great Pie Fundraiser of 2012 https://brainofshawn.com/2012/11/10/the-great-pie-fundraiser-of-2012/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/11/10/the-great-pie-fundraiser-of-2012/#comments Sun, 11 Nov 2012 01:52:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1927   My kids are selling pies for a school fundraiser for their choir/vocal class. (My two oldest are in choir, and are amazing, thanks for asking!) The cool part is, after orders are taken, the kids MAKE the pies themselves! What a neat idea, hats off to Hopkins Schools for a cool fundraiser. If you ... Read more

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My kids are selling pies for a school fundraiser for their choir/vocal class. (My two oldest are in choir, and are amazing, thanks for asking!) The cool part is, after orders are taken, the kids MAKE the pies themselves! What a neat idea, hats off to Hopkins Schools for a cool fundraiser.

If you want to buy one, we’ll do our best to get it to you. If you’re nearby, we’ll just deliver it. The further away you are, the more challenging delivery gets. If it requires freezing and dry ice to ship, we might have to share the shipping expenses. 🙂 (Note: I freely offer my pie eating services for those needing such services)

Anyway, the Apple Pie is $9, and the Blueberry Pie is $10.  Here are paypal links to send the money:

NOTE: I’m a moron and can’t make the paypal links work. If you want to use paypal, just send the money to paypal@brainofshawn.com with a link and a note as to which kind and what type you want. 🙂

Here is the official information:

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The New Ride https://brainofshawn.com/2012/11/01/the-new-ride/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/11/01/the-new-ride/#comments Thu, 01 Nov 2012 22:56:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1924 My beloved 1994 Chevy S-10 unfortunately drives very much like a 1994 pickup truck with 200K miles on it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my truck. The thing is, now that we’re in the city, when I commute to work in the morning it feels very much like I’m going to die at any ... Read more

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My beloved 1994 Chevy S-10 unfortunately drives very much like a 1994 pickup truck with 200K miles on it. Don’t get me wrong, I love my truck. The thing is, now that we’re in the city, when I commute to work in the morning it feels very much like I’m going to die at any moment. My truck shimmies, it rocks, it skids, and its safety features are pretty much non-existent. I’ve almost rear ended several vehicles because old Betsy just doesn’t stop like she used to. So, it’s time to get a new vehicle. And I LOVE my new vehicle.

Pictured here is my new 2013 Dodge Dart SXT/Rallye Sedan. The cool blue color is nice, but honestly is just a bonus, as the stuff inside is really what I was worried about. Here’s a quick rundown of the specs:

  • 1.4L Turbocharged, 16 valve, 4 cylinder engine
  • 6 speed manual transmission
  • 17″ Aluminum wheels
  • Eleventy hundred airbags (estimate)

The 1.4L engine with the multi-air turbocharger makes for interesting driving. I’ve never driven a car with a turbocharger (it actually still sounds like something fake to me), but it takes a little getting used to. The “turbo” kicks in when the car reaches a certain RPM, so with gentle driving it’s rarely engaged. Give it a little gas, however, and you REALLY notice the difference. It makes for a very VERY fun drive. 6 gears is a lot to shift through, but even that I’m getting used to.

Here is a photo of the inside. Doesn’t that look fun?

Along with the drive train, the technology was something I was very concerned about. I’m going to have this car for 10+ years, so it has to be worthy of such a long relationship. Along with the 8.4″ UConnect touchscreen entertainment panel (pictured above), I insisted on having Bluetooth connectivity. If I’m going to be driving 90MPH 70MPH on the way to work, I can’t be fiddling with my phone. So, the Dart has handsfree built in. It also has Bluetooth audio streaming, which is really cool — but in practice it’s a little underwhelming, because it lacks tools like fast forward and such. Still, in a pinch it’s pretty neat.

While it wasn’t a feature I was really concerned about one way or another, my car does have Sirius Radio with a year of service included. It turns out this is actually kinda nice, and while the stations aren’t really up my alley, a few are nice. For the most part, however, when I commute to and from work, I listen to audiobooks. At first I did this by connecting my phone to the car via USB (cool feature), but now I actually just loaded up an SD Card with a bunch of audiobooks, and leave it plugged into my car. It remembers where it left off, even if I remove the card and put it back in later. Oh, my car has an SD Slot, did I mention that? 🙂

At the end of the day, this $22,000 car is a big investment. I feel so much safer driving to work now, however, so I think it’s worth it. And at 39MPG on the highway, it will practically pay for itself. In about 300 years or so. 😀

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It’s Official. And a Bit Scary. https://brainofshawn.com/2012/07/20/its-official-and-a-bit-scary/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/07/20/its-official-and-a-bit-scary/#comments Fri, 20 Jul 2012 15:44:58 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1919 Many folks already know, but it only recently became official. I’ve accepted a position at Cornerstone University as “Assistant Director of Database Services”, which is just a wordy way of saying I’ll be working with a team of database folks much smarter than me, doing new and exciting things pertaining to databases. You want more ... Read more

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Many folks already know, but it only recently became official. I’ve accepted a position at Cornerstone University as “Assistant Director of Database Services”, which is just a wordy way of saying I’ll be working with a team of database folks much smarter than me, doing new and exciting things pertaining to databases. You want more details? Well, ask me in a couple months. 🙂

This means I’ll no longer be the Technology Director for Inland Lakes Schools, and will be leaving an amazing bunch of folks that have been like a family to me for the past 12 years. This is actually tougher than I thought it would be. Like any family, there have been some rough times at Inland Lakes, but at the end of the day it’s a place I care for a great deal. My only hope is that my leaving might be a catalyst for awesome change. Still, leaving sorta rips my heart out.

The switch also means relocating. While I certainly like a good commute, driving 4 hours one way doesn’t seem like a very good idea. My family found a rental place on the south side of Grand Rapids that is small and charming, but with a great big fenced in backyard for our furry friends. Here it is, right out of the 1950s:

Also, if anyone wants to buy a fairly new 4 bedroom home in Indian River with a partially finished basement and an awesome office, I know a guy selling. Just saying.

So Grand Rapids? Prepare for the Powers family. Soon, we will be in you. Cornerstone University? You’re about to get a little sillier, but I think that was clear in my interviews. You have no one to blame but yourself. And Indian River friends, family, church, school, community… We already miss you, and we’re still here for another month.

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Small Town Awesome https://brainofshawn.com/2012/07/09/small-town-awesome/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/07/09/small-town-awesome/#comments Mon, 09 Jul 2012 23:30:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1916 Just as I’m whining on Twitter about running with asthma, and having a pity party for my otherwise healthy self, my phone rings. It’s a police officer from my home town. (I’m currently in another town, about 35 miles away) “Hello?” “Hi Shawn! This is Gordon. Are you missing something?” Now, to be clear, Gordon ... Read more

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Just as I’m whining on Twitter about running with asthma, and having a pity party for my otherwise healthy self, my phone rings. It’s a police officer from my home town. (I’m currently in another town, about 35 miles away)

“Hello?”

“Hi Shawn! This is Gordon. Are you missing something?”

Now, to be clear, Gordon is a friend. He goes to the same church, and he just coached my daughter’s softball team. Still, I panicked a bit, because he is a cop. Had I forgotten to put the dogs in the house when we left, and they ate the neighbor lady’s cat? Did someone steal my truck? (I haven’t had the keys out of the ignition for years) Did someone take one of my kids while I was wheezing on the jogging trail?

Nope. I apparently lost my wallet. I never thought I’d be so relieved over losing my wallet. I hadn’t noticed yet, but like an idiot, I groped myself to check.

“Someone found it on Lake street near the park. The police have it there at the Petoskey PD.”

I had to ask Gordon if he knew where the Petoskey PD was, and figured I’d have to come back during the day to pick it up. I was wrong.

“Nah, of you’re still in Petoskey, I can contact an officer. Go on over and you can pick it up.”

So I did. When I got to the Police Department, it was indeed closed, but an officer was waiting for me in his car. After a friendly over-scrutiny of my drivers license photo, he smiled and gave me the wallet. He said someone found it near the curb and turned it in. Even the $10 bill from the ATM was still inside. 🙂

When I think about how many layers of awesome I just experienced – it kinda puts my “bad day” into a whole new light. Thanks Gordon, for calling me personally. Thanks Petoskey PD for contacting Gordon, however you managed that. And thank you kind soul on Lake street, you’re the sort of person that gives me hope for humanity. 🙂

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Shawn’s Amazing and Simple Iced Tea Recipe https://brainofshawn.com/2012/06/30/shawns-amazing-and-simple-iced-tea-recipe/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/06/30/shawns-amazing-and-simple-iced-tea-recipe/#comments Sun, 01 Jul 2012 03:16:07 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1912 It’s simple, it’s delicious, it has the perfect amount of everything — and in some circles it’s sorta famous. Here is my iced tea recipe. You can substitute other teas, but I’ve tried MANY others, and PG Tips has just the right amount of tannin and a nice red color. Obviously you can tweak it ... Read more

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It’s simple, it’s delicious, it has the perfect amount of everything — and in some circles it’s sorta famous. Here is my iced tea recipe. You can substitute other teas, but I’ve tried MANY others, and PG Tips has just the right amount of tannin and a nice red color. Obviously you can tweak it if you want to (you know, if you like cruddy iced tea or something), but this is exactly how I do it:

Shawn’s Super Yummy Iced Tea

5 PG Tips teabags (On Amazon if you can’t find them elsewhere)
1 Quart mason jar (for steeping)
2 Quart glass pitcher
1/8 Cup sugar

* Fill quart size mason jar almost to the top with boiling water.
* Put all 5 teabags into water
* Steep for 10 minutes or so, tea should be very strong
* Remove teabags
* Mix 1/8 cup of sugar into hot tea until it’s dissolved
* Fill 2 quart pitcher 2/3 full of ice
* Pour tea over ice, stirring briskly so ice doesn’t clump
* Serve and enjoy!

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My Chat with AT&T https://brainofshawn.com/2012/06/29/my-chat-with-att/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/06/29/my-chat-with-att/#comments Sat, 30 Jun 2012 02:19:26 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1906 Posted without comment… info: Please wait for a chat representative to respond. info: You are now chatting with ‘Ian Young’ Ian Young: Thank you for chatting with at&t today, I am happy to assist you Shawn Powers: Can you give me an idea when our service will work here in Indian River, MI? Ian Young: ... Read more

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Posted without comment…

info: Please wait for a chat representative to respond.
info: You are now chatting with ‘Ian Young’
Ian Young: Thank you for chatting with at&t today, I am happy to assist you

Shawn Powers: Can you give me an idea when our service will work here in Indian River, MI?

Ian Young: I am happy to look into that with you today

[over 5 minutes go by]

Shawn Powers: Are you doing that now?

Ian Young: I am

Ian Young: I do see the reports of the issue, but no estimated resolution time

Shawn Powers: So you recommend I switch to Verizon?

Ian Young: I did not say that

Shawn Powers: You are one of many AT&T folks that acknowledge a problem, yet have no estimate for repair time, nor explanation as to what is happening.

Shawn Powers: So, since you can’t help me — switching companies seems the only logical choice.

Shawn Powers: What if this goes on for years?

Shawn Powers: Shall I never again make a call or text?

Ian Young: unfortunately, we only have the information our technicians provide us, and as of yet they have not advised us when the expect to have the issue resolved, in all my years with at&t I have never seen an issue like this last for years, but if you feel that is what you must do, that is your choice

Shawn Powers: Do you understand why a continued “we don’t know when it will be fixed” makes me question why I spend $350+ a month?

Shawn Powers: this is at least week two, which means I’ve paid for half a month of service that rarely works

Ian Young: I do understand, and if we had a date we would be more then happy to provide it to you

Shawn Powers: Do you have an estimate on when you might have an estimate?

Shawn Powers: or possibly does a manager have a better idea of when the problem will be identified or fixed?

Shawn Powers: Certainly someone in all of AT&T must know something.

Shawn Powers: I could flag down AT&T trucks that pass by on the road, but that seems a bit drastic.

Shawn Powers: I would call and talk to someone, but you see, my phone doesn’t work.

Ian Young: they would have the same access to the information as I do, unfortunately our technicians have not provided us that information, weather you reach us through here for chat or call, we have the same information

Shawn Powers: Perhaps could someone *call* the technicians?

Shawn Powers: Or email them.

Shawn Powers: Or text them

Shawn Powers: Communicate with them in some manner?

Ian Young: if we had a way to contact them, we would already have done so

Shawn Powers: So… the company which claims to be the biggest and best company for communication can not contact their own technicians?

Shawn Powers: You do see the irony, no?

Shawn Powers: I suppose I would understand if you can’t reach them on their phones if they live in Indian River.

Shawn Powers: Our towers don’t work here.

Ian Young: with our technicians it is a one way communication, the let us know,

Shawn Powers: You don’t think that is unacceptable? That’s the same efficiency as smoke signals.

Shawn Powers: Perhaps a note could be slipped into their paychecks, asking for an update?

Shawn Powers: I’m certain they receive that from AT&T, even if they never have to receive information from the company in other matters.

Ian Young: I do understand your frustration

Shawn Powers: Yet, you have no suggestions for me?

Shawn Powers: Let’s pretend you were me, what would you do?

Shawn Powers: Would you continue to pay for service that does not work?

Shawn Powers: Is that that what the ideal customer would do?

Shawn Powers: Or should I continue to spew sarcasm at you, and hope it goes up the chain?

Shawn Powers: I realize you personally aren’t responsible — but you’re my only point of contact.

Shawn Powers: So you get the brunt of my frustrations.

Shawn Powers: I must have some resolution, as I’ve patiently waited for two weeks now.

Shawn Powers: If I ordered a hamburger, and it didn’t arrive for two weeks, I would most likely leave the restaurant, thus my questions about switching to Verizon.

Ian Young: again it is your choice as to weather to continue service with at&t or not, at this point, the information you are requesting is not available, our technicians are working to resolve the issue as quickly as possible

Shawn Powers: So will I be charged for the past two weeks?

Shawn Powers: Or will my bill reflect the time it takes the technicians to fix things?

Shawn Powers: If I knew the length of time it would take, I could better judge if I wanted to remain a customer.

Shawn Powers: I would say the phones work about 25% of the time, will I get a 75% discount?

Shawn Powers: If you can’t resolve my problem, can I stop service with AT&T, and no longer have a committment on my contract? ie, revoke early termination fees?

Shawn Powers: I think that would be a fair compromise. If you can’t tell me when my phones will work, then canceling my early termination fees would be acceptable.

Shawn Powers: it’s not even all my phones, some are past their contract dates.

Ian Young: I apologize, we in tech support do not have information on termination fees or contracts, if you want to call our Customer Care at 1-800-331-0500 from a land line phone, they would be able to look into that with you

Shawn Powers: Shall I go ask the neighbor if they have a landline phone?

Shawn Powers: We have 5 cellphones you see, and no landline.

Shawn Powers: Customer care cannot chat?

Ian Young: I am happy to find the location of one of our at&t company owned stores, they would have a courtsey phone you would be able to use

Shawn Powers: The store itself couldn’t help me?

Ian Young: they might be able to, but most likely they would direct you to call

Shawn Powers: I see. Well, Ian, I would thank you for your help, but really you haven’t helped at all.

Shawn Powers: I’m sure you tried — but you’ve said the same thing I keep hearing over and over.

Ian Young: as I said if we had more information, we would not hesitate to provide it

Shawn Powers: Well, if I see a technician, I’ll let them know you’d like to talk to them. Too bad AT&T doesn’t have two way phones for them yet.

Ian Young: it is not a matter of Phones

Ian Young: it is a matter of allowing them the ability to do the work they have to do with out intruption

Shawn Powers: So you *can* call them, you just won’t?

Shawn Powers: “Ian Young: with our technicians it is a one way communication, the let us know,”

Shawn Powers: But they don’t let you know apparently, therein lies the problem.

Ian Young: they let us know when they know, if they don’t know, then don’t have the information, hence we don’t have the information

Shawn Powers: If it took me two weeks to figure out how long it would take to solve a problem, I would be fired. Perhaps I should get a job as an AT&T technician, it sounds like they have a cake job.

Shawn Powers: “We’ll get it fixed… someday. No, we won’t tell you what’s wrong. No, no idea how long it will take.”

Ian Young: I understand your point of view, but the technical aspect is not as simple as you seem to imply

Shawn Powers: Ahh, yes, that’s it. Think about it not as the AT&T tech support, but as a person that paid hundreds of dollars for shoddy service.

Shawn Powers: If you truly believe it’s acceptable to hear “no estimate” for weeks, with no further information, you have a horrible concept of customer support.

Shawn Powers: Hours, i would understand.

Shawn Powers: A day, maybe

Ian Young: I do apologize that we do not have an estimated time of resolution, it is not an issue of weather I feel it is acceptable or not, it is what we have to work with

Shawn Powers: So what should I do?

Shawn Powers: Please tell me what the recommendation is.

Ian Young: What you should do is up to you, at this point all I can say, is we are working to resolve the issue

Shawn Powers: So you have no recommendation?

Ian Young: If I had a recommendation that would fix the issue, I assure you I would not hesitate to provide it

Shawn Powers: What I’m asking is, when I go into the other room and my family asks about their phones, I need to say, “Ian said we should __________.”

Shawn Powers: Because that’s why I contacted you.

Shawn Powers: I need to know what to do now.

Shawn Powers: My phones dont’ work.

Shawn Powers: I came up with ideas, like switching to Verizon. I need to know what AT&T suggests I do.

Shawn Powers: Continue to wait indefinitely? If that’s the answer, just let me know.

Shawn Powers: You currently represent all of AT&T, I need to know what AT&T suggests I do.

Ian Young: What to do now is up to you, as for you concerns about the contracts, is to call and speak with our Customer Support,

Shawn Powers: let’s start over then. Ian, my phone doesnt’ work, what should I do?

Ian Young: I do understand Mr Powers, you want us to tell you what to do, but you don’t want us to tell you to wait till it is fixed, no carrier is going to tell its customers to go to another carrier, outside of that what else are we to tell you?

Shawn Powers: I guess you don’t have an answer for me then. Very well. Thank you for a lovely chat, Ian. I do hope you have a good day.

Ian Young: I hope you have a good day as well, and that the issue is resolved soon for you

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Leadership is… https://brainofshawn.com/2012/06/13/leadership-is/ https://brainofshawn.com/2012/06/13/leadership-is/#comments Wed, 13 Jun 2012 15:09:34 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1902 Leaders succeed vicariously. Leaders have thick skin, but use it to protect others. Leaders make the coffee. Players win, coaches lose. Managers convince people to do their best, leaders inspire people to do their best. Leadership is smiling because no one else is. Leaders come in early, and make sure everyone else leaves on time. ... Read more

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Leaders succeed vicariously.

Leaders have thick skin, but use it to protect others.

Leaders make the coffee.

Players win, coaches lose.

Managers convince people to do their best, leaders inspire people to do their best.

Leadership is smiling because no one else is.

Leaders come in early, and make sure everyone else leaves on time.

Leaders do the unpleasant jobs.

Leaders are never too busy to talk, even when they are.

A leader praises publicly, and corrects privately.

Leaders care.

Leaders guard the underside of busses to make sure no one gets tossed there.

A leader serves.

The success of a leader can be measured by their employee’s smiles.

Leaders can be trusted. Even about that one thing.

A leader makes the right decision, even in the absence of good options.

Leaders aren’t always in leadership positions. They don’t have to be.

A leader is honest. Even when honesty isn’t popular or easy.

A leader gives clarity, expectations, assistance, and feedback. Never skipping one.

Leaders don’t delegate the things they can’t do, they do the things that can’t be delegated.

Good leaders sell passion, great leaders create it.

A leader is easy to spot, yet none are alike.

Management can be taught, leadership can only be nurtured.

Leaders aren’t better than everyone else, they make everyone else better.

A leader’s motivation is never leadership itself.

A leader is worth following.

…ok, your turn. What is leadership?

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Sometimes I Preach (Dec 11th) https://brainofshawn.com/2011/12/11/sometimes-i-preach-dec-11th/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/12/11/sometimes-i-preach-dec-11th/#comments Sun, 11 Dec 2011 22:33:02 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1892 This was my sermon from today. My normal disclaimer applies: If you don’t want to hear me preach a Christian sermon from Sunday morning, I won’t be offended. I’m not a professional, etc, etc, etc. Nonetheless, lots of people asked for these, so here ya go. 🙂 December 11, 2011 Title: “I’ve got this job ... Read more

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This was my sermon from today. My normal disclaimer applies: If you don’t want to hear me preach a Christian sermon from Sunday morning, I won’t be offended. I’m not a professional, etc, etc, etc. Nonetheless, lots of people asked for these, so here ya go. 🙂

December 11, 2011
Title: “I’ve got this job for you…”
Verses: Matthew 1:18-25

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(NOTE: The recording quality isn’t great on this, my apologies)

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Sometimes I Preach (Thanksgiving Sermon) https://brainofshawn.com/2011/12/11/sometimes-i-preach-thanksgiving-sermon/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/12/11/sometimes-i-preach-thanksgiving-sermon/#respond Sun, 11 Dec 2011 21:52:08 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1887 I have been asked for audio copies of the sermons I do at church. It’s important to bear in mind that I’m not a pastor, I’m just a church leader that preaches when the need arises. I’m not a professional, but I do my best. If you aren’t interested in hearing me preach a Sunday ... Read more

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I have been asked for audio copies of the sermons I do at church. It’s important to bear in mind that I’m not a pastor, I’m just a church leader that preaches when the need arises. I’m not a professional, but I do my best. If you aren’t interested in hearing me preach a Sunday morning message — I’m not offended in the least. 🙂

Thanksgiving Sermon
November 27, 2011
Title: Stuff
Verses: Luke 18:18-23

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Living vs Existing https://brainofshawn.com/2011/11/23/living-vs-existing/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/11/23/living-vs-existing/#comments Wed, 23 Nov 2011 18:52:29 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1881 This is not my normal goofy post. Just a warning. This is a personal post, and if you feel squiggy about taking a glimpse into my personal life, flee now. Like many artsy-fartsy folks, I struggle with clinical depression coupled with crippling anxiety. It might be cool if a creative person battling with inner torments ... Read more

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This is not my normal goofy post. Just a warning. This is a personal post, and if you feel squiggy about taking a glimpse into my personal life, flee now.

Like many artsy-fartsy folks, I struggle with clinical depression coupled with crippling anxiety. It might be cool if a creative person battling with inner torments and emotional pain was unique — but let’s face it, it’s so common it’s cliche. If I were like any other self-respecting starving artist, I’d man up and turn to drugs and alcohol. I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re supposed to do. Since I have a family, however, that oh-so-also-cliche option really isn’t on the table. So I opt for the other type of drug: The kind prescribed by a doctor.

Since I also struggle with migraines, and have a severe reaction to most drugs (See! I am super special!), it’s challenging to get a combination of drugs that treats both depression and headaches while not making me gain weight and have other *ahem* embarrassing side effects. BUT, since mid-summer, I’ve been on a combination that seems to be working! Yay!

My moods have been fairly steady. I’ve had very few fits of dark, ominous, soul-crushing depression. I’m still not comfortable in large groups of people, but I haven’t had any anxiety attacks. I haven’t lost weight, but I stopped gaining. Heck, even my insomnia has mostly disappeared. I’m more “normal” than I have been for years. What a happy ending, no? 🙂 But…

I’m boring.

That’s not really a fair thing to say. I’m still me. I’m still the funny guy in most crowds. I’m still smart enough to solve most problems at work. I’m still weird enough that people aren’t quite sure how to take me. I’m still really good at Balderdash. The part of me that I most love, however, seems to be sleeping. I have no motivation to create. Anything. At. All. And that bothers me.

Can you remember the last time I made a silly video of myself? I can’t. Can you remember the last time I did a tech tip video for Linux Journal? I can’t. Heck, even blogging — I’ve averaged one post a month since July. One PER MONTH. Who does that?

It gets worse though. Since I’ve been on this “working” cocktail of medicine, I’ve missed every writing deadline I have. I’ve completely failed to produce web content when I’m supposed to. Heck, I’m in the middle of writing a review now that is so boring, reading it might kill people. My creativity is seemingly gone. And I miss the crap out of it.

So there is my conundrum. I could continue to take my crazy-people pills, and live a perfectly ordinary life. There are many advantages. Heck, I’m even budgeting now — surely a sign of the end times. I could likely exist like this for the rest of my life, and my family would be happy, comfortable, and not worried about me. But it would be just that… existing.

But what is the alternative? Depression? Anxiety? Suicidal thoughts? Pain? Misery? Is it worth facing those things for the chance to truly live? I dunno. I’m happy now, I guess. At least I’m not unhappy. I certainly don’t want to try switching drugs again. It’s been literally years of trying different combinations, and this is the closest to “normal” I’ve ever felt.

Anyway. Wish me luck. Maybe I’ll try a prescription of light therapy, treadmill, and meditation. Maybe I’ll do nothing, it’s hard to say. My blog has the subtitle “The Thinks I Think”, it’s never been more true. 🙂

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Because Giving Up Is For Chumps https://brainofshawn.com/2011/10/06/because-giving-up-is-for-chumps/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/10/06/because-giving-up-is-for-chumps/#comments Thu, 06 Oct 2011 21:36:16 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1876 This is my daughter Lydia. Lydia is in 7th grade, and has a very slight frame. I’d say she’s scrawny, but since she’s 10 times tougher than I am, that seems like a silly thing to say. Since my wife Donna is a high school volleyball coach, Lydia gets to (or has to) sit through ... Read more

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You wish you were this awesome.
2% Success, 110% Awesome
This is my daughter Lydia. Lydia is in 7th grade, and has a very slight frame. I’d say she’s scrawny, but since she’s 10 times tougher than I am, that seems like a silly thing to say.

Since my wife Donna is a high school volleyball coach, Lydia gets to (or has to) sit through the older girl’s practice every day after school. Lydia has an incredible desire to play volleyball, but her very small frame works against her. In this photo you see her serving. Every day at practice she takes an empty net, and serves at least 50 balls. At the beginning of the season, the balls rarely made it to the net, much less make it over. It’s been a couple months, and due to her persistence, she now usually gets one or maybe two balls over the net every day.

For you math nuts, that means she only has a 2% success rate, or a 98% failure rate. For you coaches, athletes, parents, teachers, students and adults — it means she’s a girl that refuses to give up. Refuses.

Lydia, you inspire me. If Mom’s volleyball team was half as determined as you are, they’d be unbeatable. If I had a quarter of your motivation, I’d be running marathons by now. And if our political leaders had a tenth of your passion, our country would look a heck of a lot different. Lydia, you inspire me. Thank you for being so awesome.

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Photon Obesity At All Time High https://brainofshawn.com/2011/09/23/photon-obesity-at-all-time-high/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/09/23/photon-obesity-at-all-time-high/#comments Fri, 23 Sep 2011 16:24:22 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1868 Our nation is struggling with a growing obesity problem unlike anything we’ve seen in generations past. Our slovenly lifestyle is beginning to leak into science as well, however, and the ramifications could be deadly. Researchers at CERN, (yes THAT CERN) have discovered the speed of light is beginning to slow down. They fired a beam ... Read more

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Our nation is struggling with a growing obesity problem unlike anything we’ve seen in generations past. Our slovenly lifestyle is beginning to leak into science as well, however, and the ramifications could be deadly.

Researchers at CERN, (yes THAT CERN) have discovered the speed of light is beginning to slow down. They fired a beam of light and some subatomic particles (neutrinos, arguably the most physically fit subatomic particles) into a particle accelerator, and a neutrino won the race. Light wasn’t even on the heels of the neutrino, and was lagging 60 billionths of a second behind!

Scientists are baffled at how our precious photons are getting so slow. Margaret Flanahan of Boston University posits, “We think it might be due to all the television watching that happens. As we sit on our couches and get fat while watching sitcoms, photons are exposed to the same life-draining drivel. I’m only surprised it hasn’t happened sooner.”

What seems like a minor mathematical error or fluctuation in space time is really a more serious problem than most people realize. If photons continue to pork out and slow down, light won’t be as reliable as we’re used to. Live reality TV will no longer be in real-time. Sunsets will happen later. Cats will be able to catch laser pointer lights with minimal effort. Truly, it’s the beginning of the end. Real life scientist Bob McFeebly thinks obesity is only the first problem. “What happens when our happy go lucky photons start to get depressed due to their obesity problem? As their mood darkens, so do we. Global cooling, food shortages, return of the ice age, and the bankruptcy of countless sunglasses factories. We’ve only seen the beginning, folks.”

Certainly a grim sign of what’s to come. Some folks are making the best of a bad situation, however, and nature photographers in Florida’s Lightning Belt are getting some prize photos. Snappy McSnapherson, a well known lightning photographer commented to our reporters, “It’s easier now than ever before! You just wait for the thunder, then point your camera in that direction. By the time the light gets there, you’re set up for an awesome shot!”

Former California governor, and known health advocate, James Rolph Jr. recommends a rehabilitation program for our overweight photons. “We just need to put photons on a regimen of diet and exercise.” Rolph recommends the following:

  1. Use fewer batteries. Flashlights are way too bright nowadays. Back in my day we carried around a glowing coal ember, and it was plenty. Light is getting fat because we use too many batteries. Just take one battery out and replace it with a stack of pennies.
  2. Swing around your flashlights. Make those photons get out and MOVE. Why I once had a dog named Old Chuckles, and he got fat from not moving around. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. My dad was in the Navy, and I had to switch schools at least 23 times a day. Days were shorter back then, and twice as hard. I miss my friend Cooter.

That was all we could get from Mr. Rolph, as he started babbling nonsense. Good advice though, we should all follow it. Of course, by the time the light gets to your eyeballs from the computer screen to read this, it will likely be too late.

So long folks, and remember to turn off the lights. Otherwise you’ll wake up with a lazy puddle of photons on the floor, and who’s gonna sweep that up?

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I Miss My Droid https://brainofshawn.com/2011/09/02/i-miss-my-droid/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/09/02/i-miss-my-droid/#comments Sat, 03 Sep 2011 00:14:42 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1863 Three or four months ago, my beloved Droid died. Since I don’t use my phone for actual phone calls, I decided to just not get a new phone, and stick with my work provided iPhone for my mobile computer needs. (I can’t use it for personal calls, but I have unlimited data and talkatone, so ... Read more

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Three or four months ago, my beloved Droid died. Since I don’t use my phone for actual phone calls, I decided to just not get a new phone, and stick with my work provided iPhone for my mobile computer needs. (I can’t use it for personal calls, but I have unlimited data and talkatone, so those rare times I have to make a personal call, I just use that) Anyway, it’s been a few months, and I can easily say:

I miss my Droid.

Really. I have nothing against Apple products. I use them all the time, and they usually “just work”, which I really appreciate. When it comes to a mobile device, however, it turns out I need more from a phone that the iPhone can offer. Heck, even jailbroken, the iPhone lacks customization that Android has by default. The big things that annoy me about the iPhone:

  • Lack of real integration with core services. If I want to use Google Voice, I should be able to do it without some weird hack.
  • App limitation. I need to use a WiFi scanner rather often, and a phone is perfect for such a thing. For some reason, however, Apple deems that an inappropriate use a phone.
  • Customization. iOS 4 gave us the earth shattering ability to set a background photo. Wow.
  • Did I mention app limitations? 🙂

Anyway, I’m up for a new device now, and I’m thinking about getting the Motorola Atrix. I don’t want the weird laptop thing that goes with it, but the battery life, CPU horsepower, and screen resolution look appealing. Anyone ever use one? If not, what’s your favorite Android phone?

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Amanda & Chris Sing “Grenade” https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/22/amanda-chris-sing-grenade/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/22/amanda-chris-sing-grenade/#comments Mon, 22 Aug 2011 22:48:46 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1859 Every so often, I post a video of Amanda playing her guitar and singing. What can I say, my totally-parentally-biased self thinks she’s pretty good. Anyway, her uncle Chris is home from college, and joined her for this particular song. NOTE: No actual grenades were harmed in the making of this video.

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Every so often, I post a video of Amanda playing her guitar and singing. What can I say, my totally-parentally-biased self thinks she’s pretty good. Anyway, her uncle Chris is home from college, and joined her for this particular song.

NOTE: No actual grenades were harmed in the making of this video.

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Rocket (wo)man! https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/21/rocket-woman/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/21/rocket-woman/#respond Sun, 21 Aug 2011 14:11:20 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1855 Last night at the Hugo Awards, my friend Kate Baker was on the ballot for being the podcast director of Clarkesworld, which was nominated for Best Semiprozine. That means she can forever refer to herself as “Hugo Award Nominated Kate Baker”, BUT THEN that whole idea was ruined when she went and won! Now she ... Read more

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Last night at the Hugo Awards, my friend Kate Baker was on the ballot for being the podcast director of Clarkesworld, which was nominated for Best Semiprozine. That means she can forever refer to herself as “Hugo Award Nominated Kate Baker”, BUT THEN that whole idea was ruined when she went and won! Now she has to refer to herself as, “Hugo Award Winning Kate Baker.” I suspect she’ll manage the change in titles just fine. 🙂

Congrats Kate!

(NOTE: The title, for those that don’t know, is because the Hugo Award is a huge rocket ship trophy…)

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Linux Journal: It Bytes To Go To Bits https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/19/linux-journal-it-bytes-to-go-to-bits/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/19/linux-journal-it-bytes-to-go-to-bits/#comments Sat, 20 Aug 2011 00:54:09 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1848 Today, Linux Journal announced something that I’ve known was coming for a while now. We will no longer get that wonderful excitement of finding a good old fashioned paper magazine in our mailbox every month. The good news is that Linux Journal won’t be going away. We’re just switching medium. It’s no longer possible for ... Read more

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Today, Linux Journal announced something that I’ve known was coming for a while now. We will no longer get that wonderful excitement of finding a good old fashioned paper magazine in our mailbox every month. The good news is that Linux Journal won’t be going away. We’re just switching medium. It’s no longer possible for the company to sustain the cost of printing and shipping a physical magazine every month.

This shouldn’t really come as a shock to anyone, as magazines right and left are either switching to digital, or closing shop altogether. As a tech magazine, I’m quite pleased to see us go for the former instead of slowly and painfully succumbing to the latter. The truth is, I can tell you first hand that Linux Journal is about 2 things: Content and people. And not in that order. With this change, those 2 things will remain at the top of our priority list.

It’s funny, because based on some of the negative feedback we’ve gotten, I suspect people think Linux Journal is a big conglomerate somewhere, and a fat guy smoking a cigar decided to cancel traditional publishing. As if he were sitting on a pile of money, and didn’t want to pay the small increase in price to keep printing. The truth is we’re a handful of regular old people scattered around the country. We have mortgages and drive crappy cars. Most of us have “day jobs” that not only supplement, but bring in the lion’s share of our income. We do Linux Journal because we love it. We love the people. We love the freedom. We love the penguin. If it were a matter of increasing prices a buck or two, we’d have done so. As the entire industry is showing, it’s a much, much bigger problem than that.

I kinda thought of all readers, ours would be the most understanding. And for the most part, they are. Linux people are smart people. The print magazine industry is dying, and either we adapt, or we just become a nostalgic part of history. We don’t want to move to a digital only platform, we must do so, or just pack up our toys and go home.

Thankfully, the majority of our subscribers are positive, if not bummed, about the change. Heck, we are too. We’re terrified that this “thing” we’ve come to love might not make it. We’re worried that people will just get angry and not buy the magazine anymore. We’re sad because we have no magic wand to make things all better. So, we will do all we know how to do: Create content. It’s what we’ve always done, and as long as we can find a place to write our stuff, it’s what we’ll continue to do. Hopefully we’ll thrive in this new digital age. It seems we are the right demographic to do so.

Hopefully, you’ll join us. 🙂

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New Digs https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/15/new-digs/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/15/new-digs/#comments Tue, 16 Aug 2011 02:42:31 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1808 So along with a new web host, it seemed a new look was in order. I rather like this theme, and expect I’ll be sticking with it for quite a while. (I mean, how can you beat a Mars sunrise in the header!?!?!) The only thing I can’t decide is whether to make that YouTube ... Read more

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So along with a new web host, it seemed a new look was in order. I rather like this theme, and expect I’ll be sticking with it for quite a while. (I mean, how can you beat a Mars sunrise in the header!?!?!)

The only thing I can’t decide is whether to make that YouTube widget display my latest video, or a random video from my channel.

So, how are you? 🙂

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Bappy Hirthday! https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/12/bappy-hirthday/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/12/bappy-hirthday/#comments Fri, 12 Aug 2011 12:12:35 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1800 Today is my dear wife’s birthday. As is accustomed here in the Powers household, we shall fan her with palm branches, feed her grapes off the vine, buy her flowers, take her on a gondola ride in Venice, and paint her toenails with the distilled tears of a thousand unicorns. Or at least the flower ... Read more

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Today is my dear wife’s birthday. As is accustomed here in the Powers household, we shall fan her with palm branches, feed her grapes off the vine, buy her flowers, take her on a gondola ride in Venice, and paint her toenails with the distilled tears of a thousand unicorns. Or at least the flower thing.

Happy Birthday Choochie, I love you!

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Things Appear to be Normal. Well, Shawn-Normal. https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/10/things-appear-to-be-normal-well-shawn-normal/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/10/things-appear-to-be-normal-well-shawn-normal/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2011 22:21:51 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1798 In other words, there may be wild monkeys with chicken heads flying around the room with wet paintbrushes and flaming leotards — but nothing weird. The DNS might take a while to propagate, but if you’re reading this, then it’s already propagated for you. You win!

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In other words, there may be wild monkeys with chicken heads flying around the room with wet paintbrushes and flaming leotards — but nothing weird. The DNS might take a while to propagate, but if you’re reading this, then it’s already propagated for you. You win!

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Database Issues… https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/10/database-issues/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/08/10/database-issues/#comments Wed, 10 Aug 2011 20:31:30 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=6 My database is “hosed” at the moment, and I’m unable to restore my backup.  (Something about a duplicate entry for key ‘PRIMARY’) I have no idea what’s wrong. Rest assured, all my years of content are here somewhere, Just not visible right now.   Stay tuned…

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My database is “hosed” at the moment, and I’m unable to restore my backup.  (Something about a duplicate entry for key ‘PRIMARY’) I have no idea what’s wrong. Rest assured, all my years of content are here somewhere, Just not visible right now.

 

Stay tuned…

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In Which Shawn And Donna Flee The Country https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/18/in-which-shawn-and-donna-flee-the-country/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/18/in-which-shawn-and-donna-flee-the-country/#comments Mon, 18 Jul 2011 13:04:53 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1795 You know how after a couple gets married, they go on a honeymoon? Yeah, well Donna and I are doing that this week. Granted we put significant stress on the after part, since we were married almost 16 years ago. Nonetheless, better late than never. 🙂 This is the resort we’ll be going to. It’s ... Read more

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You know how after a couple gets married, they go on a honeymoon? Yeah, well Donna and I are doing that this week. Granted we put significant stress on the after part, since we were married almost 16 years ago. Nonetheless, better late than never. 🙂


This is the resort we’ll be going to. It’s the Secrets Resorts Silversands. Click on the pretty picture to take you to their website. We are really excited. If the resort lives up to half the hype, I suspect it will be like heaven on earth.

Our kids are spending the week with their aunt and uncle, and our college kid is staying home to take care of the house and animals. My boss at the school warned me that working remotely during my honeymoon would be considered insubordination. I think I like him. 🙂

We’ve packed swimsuits, books, and not much else. As it turns out, the weather here in northern Michigan will be in the mid 90s while we’re gone, and in Cancun the temperature will only be in the mid 80s. That amuses me immensely. Anyway, if you don’t hear from me here or on Twitter, take that as a good thing. Still, we’ll have wifi and cameras, I suspect we’ll want to share a bit while we’re there. (So me tweeting doesn’t signify marital problems, lol!)

I hope your week is wonderful, but unless you’re going on a fancy vacation, I hope our week is slightly more wonderfuller than yours. No offense. 🙂

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Do Something Silly Day 8 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/08/do-something-silly-day-8/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/08/do-something-silly-day-8/#comments Sat, 09 Jul 2011 01:24:06 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1791 Today’s silly thing was quite nice. A nap. But not just a nap, a nap with a baby! Sadly, it didn’t last. The baby woke up, and wanted cake. 🙂

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Today’s silly thing was quite nice. A nap. But not just a nap, a nap with a baby!

Sadly, it didn’t last. The baby woke up, and wanted cake. 🙂

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Do Something Silly Day 7 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/08/do-something-silly-day-7/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/08/do-something-silly-day-7/#comments Fri, 08 Jul 2011 18:34:12 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1789 Yesterday I was sick, so I didn’t post anything silly. I suppose when I tried to calm my upset stomach by eating leftover Indian food it could be considered silly, but I decided to do (2) silly things today. Here is the first. 🙂 I gotta say, purposefully doing something silly every day has been ... Read more

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Yesterday I was sick, so I didn’t post anything silly. I suppose when I tried to calm my upset stomach by eating leftover Indian food it could be considered silly, but I decided to do (2) silly things today. Here is the first. 🙂

I gotta say, purposefully doing something silly every day has been AWESOME. Even if you don’t blog or comment about it, you should really try it yourself. Feel free to use my ideas, or come up with your own. Silly is as silly does!

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Do Something Silly Day 6 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/06/do-something-silly-day-6/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/06/do-something-silly-day-6/#comments Thu, 07 Jul 2011 03:34:10 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1785 Today sorta snuck up on me, or rather snuck away from me. It’s almost tomorrow, and I’ve barely been silly at all! Well, nothing brings out creativity quite like desperation. So here we go! So, it’s been almost a week. I think you should start posting some comments about the silly things you’re doing. Because ... Read more

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Today sorta snuck up on me, or rather snuck away from me. It’s almost tomorrow, and I’ve barely been silly at all! Well, nothing brings out creativity quite like desperation. So here we go!

So, it’s been almost a week. I think you should start posting some comments about the silly things you’re doing. Because really, misery silly loves company. 🙂

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Do Something Silly Day 5 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/05/do-something-silly-day-5/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/05/do-something-silly-day-5/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2011 23:07:12 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/2011/07/05/do-something-silly-day-5/ This may explain a few things about me. Meet my Mom. I get my silly honest. Here we are being normal. For us. 😀 If you can’t dance with your Mom, just stop in and visit mine. She’ll probably dance with you, if you’re brave enough! (PS: My Mom is awesome)

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This may explain a few things about me. Meet my Mom. I get my silly honest. Here we are being normal. For us. 😀

If you can’t dance with your Mom, just stop in and visit mine. She’ll probably dance with you, if you’re brave enough! (PS: My Mom is awesome)

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Do Something Silly Day 4 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/04/do-something-silly-day-4/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/04/do-something-silly-day-4/#comments Tue, 05 Jul 2011 01:54:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1781 This one may not seem particularly silly, and until I did it, I didn’t think it was silly either. We were in a parade today, celebrating Independence Day, and advertising for Vacation Bible School next week. That part isn’t silly. In fact, here’s our float: Lovely, no? Yes, well the silly part is that I ... Read more

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This one may not seem particularly silly, and until I did it, I didn’t think it was silly either. We were in a parade today, celebrating Independence Day, and advertising for Vacation Bible School next week. That part isn’t silly. In fact, here’s our float:

Lovely, no? Yes, well the silly part is that I thought it would be a good idea to walk our dog in the parade. Unfortunately, I forgot our dog Zoey is afraid of busy places. In fact, even walking down the street, when a car passes, she freaks out. Well, silly me took her in a parade with hundreds of people, horses, music, fire trucks, fireworks, etc, etc. I will have leash burn for days.

I think perhaps I confused my meme, and today I did “Do Something Stupid Day 4.” 🙂

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Do Something Silly Day 3 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/03/do-something-silly-day-3/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/03/do-something-silly-day-3/#comments Mon, 04 Jul 2011 01:12:02 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1776 It’s the holiday weekend, so I say it’s time to get CRAZY. I know I did. I went out and BROKE THE RULES, BABY! This silly thing may be too dangerous for some of you, but for those daring enough to follow in my freakishly rebellious shoes — feel free. I gotta go, I think ... Read more

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It’s the holiday weekend, so I say it’s time to get CRAZY. I know I did. I went out and BROKE THE RULES, BABY!

This silly thing may be too dangerous for some of you, but for those daring enough to follow in my freakishly rebellious shoes — feel free. I gotta go, I think I hear the cops…

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Do Something Silly Day 2 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/02/do-something-silly-day-2/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/02/do-something-silly-day-2/#comments Sat, 02 Jul 2011 22:18:08 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/2011/07/02/do-something-silly-day-2/ The post Do Something Silly Day 2 appeared first on The Brain of Shawn.

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Do Something Silly Day 1 https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/01/do-something-silly-day-1/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/07/01/do-something-silly-day-1/#comments Fri, 01 Jul 2011 22:19:32 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/2011/07/01/do-something-silly-day-1/ It’s easier to do this with kids. As we age, our creamer stacking creativity declines. Thankfully, so does the desire to do creamershots. 🙂 Bonus points for using all the condiments and table accoutrements.

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It’s easier to do this with kids. As we age, our creamer stacking creativity declines. Thankfully, so does the desire to do creamershots. 🙂

Bonus points for using all the condiments and table accoutrements.

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My Plan To Replace The Dollar Bill https://brainofshawn.com/2011/06/17/my-plan-to-replace-the-dollar-bill/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/06/17/my-plan-to-replace-the-dollar-bill/#comments Fri, 17 Jun 2011 20:33:44 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1767 I don’t really have anything against dollar bills. I don’t. They fit in your wallet well, they are great for tipping, and they smell pretty cool. (That’s actually cool of all denominations, not just singles. Hey don’t judge me, marker sniffer.) Apart from that, they are a waste. As it turns out, paper currency costs ... Read more

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I don’t really have anything against dollar bills. I don’t. They fit in your wallet well, they are great for tipping, and they smell pretty cool. (That’s actually cool of all denominations, not just singles. Hey don’t judge me, marker sniffer.)

Apart from that, they are a waste. As it turns out, paper currency costs a lot of money. Har har har. Seriously though, using coin dollars would purportedly save $5.5 billion dollars over the next 30 years. This is due to a few reasons:

  • Dollar bills cost 2.7 to make
  • Dollar coins cost 15 cents to make
  • BUT, bills last about 40 months
  • and coins last 34 years

You probably figured out one of the big reasons the government might hesitate switching over. The first 4 years of the switchover will actually cost money instead of saving money. Politicians need to be reelected, and losing money in the short term doesn’t really garner that many votes. (As a whole, people are fairly short sighted)

So here’s my plan: We need to get the support of the extreme (ahem, crazy) conservative Americans. We just need to stress a few things about paper dollars, and they’ll be burned at the metaphorical stake:

  • Paper dollars are easier to stuff into stripper’s g-strings than coins.
  • Marijuana joints are rolled with dollar bills. (I had to google this, but apparently it’s true) Not so much with coins. Sure, it would probably be possible to roll them with bigger bills — but druggies only have dollars left after the purchase. Everyone knows that.
  • Bank robbers always want small, unmarked bills. That’s because singles are sinful.
  • Dollar bills are bleached out to make counterfeit larger denomination bills. Who would ever bleach out a 5?!?!?
  • And lastly, one dollar bills are used to steal from God. People wrap a bunch of 1’s in a 20, and drop it in the offering plate. It makes ’em look generous.

I think my plan is a good one. The only possible problem I see is that a dollar coin in a wallet looks like a condom. We’ll have to work on that one… 😉

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The Flowbee Sucks. And Cuts! https://brainofshawn.com/2011/05/18/the-flowbee-sucks-and-cuts/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/05/18/the-flowbee-sucks-and-cuts/#comments Wed, 18 May 2011 12:08:22 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1762 The truth of the matter is that I love my Flowbee. The folks at Linux Journal got it for me as a pseudo gag gift last year for my birthday. The joke, as they say, is on them. 🙂 For some reason people want to see video proof of Flo’s suckitude. Here’s the latest cut…

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The truth of the matter is that I love my Flowbee. The folks at Linux Journal got it for me as a pseudo gag gift last year for my birthday. The joke, as they say, is on them. 🙂

For some reason people want to see video proof of Flo’s suckitude. Here’s the latest cut…

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The Powers Girls: 30 Hour Famine https://brainofshawn.com/2011/05/06/the-powers-girls-30-hour-famine/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/05/06/the-powers-girls-30-hour-famine/#comments Sat, 07 May 2011 00:51:15 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1757 I’ll let the girls speak for themselves. If you’d like to donate, the link is below the video. 🙂 For more information on the 30 Hour Famine, visit their website.

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I’ll let the girls speak for themselves. If you’d like to donate, the link is below the video. 🙂










For more information on the 30 Hour Famine, visit their website.

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Dear Future Shawn, https://brainofshawn.com/2011/04/27/dear-future-shawn/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/04/27/dear-future-shawn/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2011 00:41:22 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1755 How does this keep happening to me?!?!?? OK, don’t answer that. Tonight is Wednesday, which means youth group at church. It’s 8:30, and we just got home. BUT, I have a video and possibly an article due for the Linux Journal website, must pack for Penguicon, must send refined interview questions to Gareth Greenaway for ... Read more

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How does this keep happening to me?!?!?? OK, don’t answer that.

Tonight is Wednesday, which means youth group at church. It’s 8:30, and we just got home. BUT, I have a video and possibly an article due for the Linux Journal website, must pack for Penguicon, must send refined interview questions to Gareth Greenaway for an article due Monday, and prepare (2) talks I’m giving this weekend.

And I need to do all that tonight!

Dear Future Shawn: Learn to say no. Really. You’ll thank me. 🙂

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A Particularly Poopy Puppy https://brainofshawn.com/2011/04/21/a-particularly-poopy-puppy/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/04/21/a-particularly-poopy-puppy/#comments Thu, 21 Apr 2011 23:21:02 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1750 This was Phoebe when we adopted her 10 months ago: Unfortunately, after 10 months of effort, she hasn’t gotten any better at housebreaking. In fact, we’ve remodeled our kitchen to keep the dogs away from the carpet, because regardless of our efforts, Phoebe poops and pees everywhere. If you’re thinking we’re just silly, naive humans ... Read more

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This was Phoebe when we adopted her 10 months ago:

For putting this bow in my hair, I will poop and pee in your house forever. Mwa Ha Ha.

Unfortunately, after 10 months of effort, she hasn’t gotten any better at housebreaking. In fact, we’ve remodeled our kitchen to keep the dogs away from the carpet, because regardless of our efforts, Phoebe poops and pees everywhere.

If you’re thinking we’re just silly, naive humans — please understand Donna and me have had dogs our whole lives. We have housebroken countless dogs, some more difficult than others, and always been able to teach them. Even Tux, our silky terrier eventually housebroke, and showed some progress from the first time we started to teach him.

Not so much with Phoebe.

I could explain in length how we’ve tried to help her thus far, but it’s the sort of things you’d expect. Crate training, puppy pads, diapers, constantly going outside, etc, etc, etc. NOTHING makes a difference. She messes in crates, rolls in it, and will often wait until she comes inside to poop. It’s quite frustrating. So instead of giving up, we contacted a specialist.

For 2 weeks, we are going to keep Phoebe on a leash 24 hours a day, and when we’re home, she will be walked indoors and out on a leash. This way, we catch her if (when, sigh) she goes in the house. It also means we notice when she goes outside, and we can give her VERY tasty treats. This ain’t no Milkbone thing, we’re talking prime cuts of hotdog. (Hey, she’s a dog, hot dogs are primo!)

Phoebe also needs to have a full panel of blood tests to check for sicknesses, and she’s going to start on Prozac. (seriously!) The hope is that her nervousness and anxiety will lessen, and she’ll be able to think long enough to understand the rewards for “going” outside.

Wish us luck, please. Ever since we’ve been in the new house, the dogs have been stuck in the kitchen behind the gate I built:

No, I'm not a craftsman, I'm just too cheap to buy commercial gates this big.

We’d like to let them join the family!

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Dear International Cafe “Cinnamon Dulce” Cappuccino… https://brainofshawn.com/2011/03/01/dear-international-cafe-cinnamon-dulce-cappuccino/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/03/01/dear-international-cafe-cinnamon-dulce-cappuccino/#comments Tue, 01 Mar 2011 19:07:40 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1741 You are a powdered drink mix. Just like chopped steak is still hamburger, and Crocs are just weird rubber shoes, you are not a gourmet beverage. Please do not pretend to be so. In fact, I suspect you may actually be a prank beverage, because it seems that when I made a cup in my ... Read more

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You are a powdered drink mix. Just like chopped steak is still hamburger, and Crocs are just weird rubber shoes, you are not a gourmet beverage. Please do not pretend to be so.

In fact, I suspect you may actually be a prank beverage, because it seems that when I made a cup in my gourmet single serving brewing apparatus (see, it doesn’t make my cheap coffee pot any fancier to use big words either), you foamed sticky goo all over my shelf.

I don’t like sticky.

Apparently someone at Maxwell House thought it would be a good idea to crumble up a bunch of Alka-Seltzer tablets into each can of Cinnamon Dulce Cappuccino, so that a proper foamy head would appear on each cup. Let me remind you, you are an instant beverage mix. No one takes you seriously. It was either you, or I brew another pot with my already used coffee grounds from this morning, and that idea almost won. You are what I drink when I run out of nasty office coffee. Don’t try to be more than you are, it’s unbecoming.

Now please clean my wall-secured, elevated, fibrous, hardwood shelving device. It’s gross.

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Amanda Singing “Collide” https://brainofshawn.com/2011/02/10/amanda-singing-collide/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/02/10/amanda-singing-collide/#comments Fri, 11 Feb 2011 00:50:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1737 Amanda, my oldest, records herself playing guitar and singing from time to time. She posts them on Facebook, but only her “friends” can see them. I asked her if I could put them up here every once in a while. Enjoy! 🙂

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Amanda, my oldest, records herself playing guitar and singing from time to time. She posts them on Facebook, but only her “friends” can see them. I asked her if I could put them up here every once in a while. Enjoy! 🙂

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These Bookmarks Are Priceless https://brainofshawn.com/2011/01/24/these-bookmarks-are-priceless/ https://brainofshawn.com/2011/01/24/these-bookmarks-are-priceless/#comments Mon, 24 Jan 2011 17:46:06 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1734 Really. They’re not for sale. This particular one was made by a 6th grader. She was one of the winners of the “design a bookmark” contest here at the school library. She’s also my daughter, which is awesome for many reasons. (No, Donna and I were not judges in the contest.) The winning bookmarks, of ... Read more

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Really. They’re not for sale. This particular one was made by a 6th grader. She was one of the winners of the “design a bookmark” contest here at the school library. She’s also my daughter, which is awesome for many reasons. (No, Donna and I were not judges in the contest.)

The winning bookmarks, of which there are 12 or so, are being printed and laminated to give out in the library. I think it’s an awesome way for kids to see their artwork appreciated by others. Unfortunately, it does cost quite a bit to print & laminate them. It got me to thinking… I wonder if people would buy them if the library made them available for sale on Teh Internets. We’d have to get school board approval, etc, etc, but if they each sold for $1 or $2 including shipping, they’d recoup that toner/plastic cost in no time.

What do you think, Internets, would you buy a hand crafted bookmark designed by a book-loving elementary child? What if the proceeds benefited the library itself? Should I push my darling wife to get board approval for such an endeavor?

Also — CONGRATS LYDIA! Way to go!!!!

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CERN Hides Large Hadron Collider Experiment https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/25/cern-hides-large-hadron-collider-experiment/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/25/cern-hides-large-hadron-collider-experiment/#comments Sun, 26 Dec 2010 02:43:39 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1726 What started out as a festive holiday for most ended in the beginning stages of the apocalypse. CERN has certainly been under the public eye with their LHC experiments, and so in order to test some of the more controversial procedures — the “scientists” need to mask their nefarious plans in a bit of pie. ... Read more

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What started out as a festive holiday for most ended in the beginning stages of the apocalypse. CERN has certainly been under the public eye with their LHC experiments, and so in order to test some of the more controversial procedures — the “scientists” need to mask their nefarious plans in a bit of pie.

The head accretion team leader, Martha Biggins, told Brain of Shawn reporters that indeed the holiday weight gain is a perfect time to test gravity altering black hole experiments.

“Everyone gains a few pounds over the holidays, so we use that phenomenon to study microscopic singularities,” Biggins said.

A microscopic singularity, for those of us not familiar with astrophysics jargon, is a black hole. The [mad] scientists at CERN are creating black holes over the holiday season, and using grandma’s pumpkin pie to hide the truth from us. That truth, however, is about to unhide like a Jack-in-the-Box.

“The problem is that Hawking Radiation, which normally nullifies the singularities before they can do any damage, seems to be affected by solar flares,” Biggins confessed. “While normally the microscopic singularities vaporize in a little puff of radiation, the solar flare on December 18th disrupted this outgassing, and actually allowed the black hole to take hold.”

Scientists are not sure how to handle the growing dilemma, but the effects of the planetary bound black hole are already evident in gravitation fluctuations across the globe. Our own Shawn Powers weighed himself 3 times today, and each time his weight had increased.

“I’ve been trying to spend my Christmas Day in a normal fashion, and have been eating huge meals with my family, but at every spare opportunity I’ve been stepping on the scale. The increase is impossible to deny. Gravity from the black hole is making me weigh more,” said Shawn.

Biggins gave us the following advice, “While we’re trying everything we can to increase the Hawking Radiation, and eliminate the black hole, it doesn’t look good. Gravitational forces will continue to rise throughout the holiday season, and throughout the following months. With proper diet and exercise, it will be possible to lose enough weight to offset the increase in gravity, but once the singularity accretes enough mass, there will be nothing we can do but leave the planet or be crushed. We’re sorry, fellow Earthlings. We really messed up on this one.”

Some anti-LHC scientists have already volunteered their time, and have calculated the timeline for total destruction. Based on scientific models, the singularity will make this planet uninhabitable around December 21st, 2012. That gives us almost 2 years to either get rid of the black hole, or find another solar system to live in.

Here at The Brain of Shawn, we suggest ignoring the problem. It’s really the only thing we can do. And for the next few years, you never have to worry about gaining weight — because remember, it’s not you, it’s the black hole! Happy Holidays everyone, and remember, have another helping of mashed potatoes. It really doesn’t matter anymore.

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Truckcam: Merry Christmas Edition https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/24/truckcam-merry-christmas-edition/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/24/truckcam-merry-christmas-edition/#comments Fri, 24 Dec 2010 22:30:24 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1724 The post Truckcam: Merry Christmas Edition appeared first on The Brain of Shawn.

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Christmas: How Did You Know? https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/24/christmas-how-did-you-know/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/24/christmas-how-did-you-know/#comments Fri, 24 Dec 2010 17:39:56 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1720 It is the time of year where we get presents. That means it’s the time of year for awkward moments where you must pretend your gift is something you’ve always wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about, “It’s the thought that counts” — but we’ve all gotten those 3 armed sweaters from Crazy Aunt ... Read more

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It is the time of year where we get presents. That means it’s the time of year for awkward moments where you must pretend your gift is something you’ve always wanted. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about, “It’s the thought that counts” — but we’ve all gotten those 3 armed sweaters from Crazy Aunt Judy. It’s the time of year for looking past the practicality of a battery operated pasta sorter, and look deeper. Remember that if your relative thinks you should be eating pasta, it means they think you’re skinny. See? It’s a wonderful gift.

Did you get a hideous tie? It just means the gifter thinks you have enough charisma to wear anything and have it look good. Did you get a sausage and cheese pack that looks like it’s from 1986? That’s aged fake-plastic cheddar! It’s probably worth thousands!

The one gift that’s always hard to take well is the soap and deodorant gift pack. How that says anything other than, “You smell bad, I thought this might help” is beyond me. I always try to imagine the person thinks I’m very concerned about hygiene, and knows I’d never splurge on an off brand travel sized gift pack myself. Oh, by the way, what is shower gel anyway? I never know what to do with half those bottles that come in the gift pack…

Anyway, keep your smile on full bore over the next couple days. Remember it’s the thought that counts. Remember you can always regift that sausage and cheese pack next year (they only improve with age I’m told). And lastly, hold off on your pasta sorting — your days of manual sorting are almost over!

Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone. 🙂

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The Plight of the Soupless https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/23/the-plight-of-the-soupless/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/23/the-plight-of-the-soupless/#comments Thu, 23 Dec 2010 19:47:32 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/2010/12/23/the-plight-of-the-soupless/ I’m currently sitting in a restaurant with my extended family, as one often does during the holiday season. They’re all eating. It’s not rude of them to be eating while I sit and stare at my empty placemat, because you see, they ordered soup and salad bar with their meal. I, did not. It’s quite ... Read more

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I’m currently sitting in a restaurant with my extended family, as one often does during the holiday season. They’re all eating. It’s not rude of them to be eating while I sit and stare at my empty placemat, because you see, they ordered soup and salad bar with their meal. I, did not.

It’s quite unsettling to have everyone else eating while I sip my ice water. Sure, I could snitch a crouton or two, but really it’s not the same. I could make a pterodactyl out of my placemat. Really. I make a mean paper pterodactyl. I worry it would be considered rude to start a craft project during the meal though. So, here I sit, blogging on my phone. It could be worse.

Here’s my holiday tip for those of you frequenting restaurants with your family: Order the salad bar. Really. Everyone else will, and you’ll be like me, alone with your phone. You’ll hope your meal comes soon, but you’ll realize the kitchen put your order on hold because everyone is eating salad. Happy Holidays everyone. May your weekend be full of food, and not paper pterodactyls. 😉

UPDATE: This blog post was eaten TWICE by the WordPress application for Android. Yes, I’m an idiot for expecting something different the second time I typed it on my phone…

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Getting Things Done https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/22/getting-things-done/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/22/getting-things-done/#comments Thu, 23 Dec 2010 02:37:19 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/2010/12/22/getting-things-done/ Whenever I’m overwhelmed, Donna reminds me how to eat an elephant.  One bite at a time.  It’s really good advice, and yet I still try to poke that thing down in one gulp.  I always fail of course, and have guilt, more stress, an increasing workload, and a lovely shame spiral that seems to never ... Read more

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And now I need to fix this tear in my monitor, ugh...Whenever I’m overwhelmed, Donna reminds me how to eat an elephant.  One bite at a time.  It’s really good advice, and yet I still try to poke that thing down in one gulp.  I always fail of course, and have guilt, more stress, an increasing workload, and a lovely shame spiral that seems to never end.  Ahh, RealLife™, how greatly thou can suck at times.

A big problem with my conundrum is that much of my work is based on creativity.  Yes, I make crap up for a living.  It’s quite lovely.  When a seemingly endless workload mixes with dozens of half done projects — the end result is usually shoddy product.  Which adds stress, adds guilt, and the shame spiral begins again.  What’s a geek to do?

Quite frankly, I’m open to suggestions.  Here are the things I’ve tried that have NOT worked:

  • Scheduling everything in Google Calendar.  This is fine, until something goes wrong (I work in IT, something ALWAYS goes wrong).  Then I’m off schedule, have guilt, more stress, you see where this is going…
  • Keeping a TODO list for all the tasks in my various jobs.  This works better than scheduling everything in a calendar, because there is no timing on the things.  HOWEVER, it’s a bit like shoveling snow from a driveway that happens to be 30 miles long.  I never see progress.  I have guilt, shame, stress, and yes, the spiral begins again.
  • [INSERT PRODUCTIVITY SYSTEM HERE] — I’ve read books, watched videos, etc, etc.  Whatever system is pitched always sounds great, but my problem is I get caught up in the system and never get anything else done!
  • At work, we’ve implemented a trouble ticket system that is a bit nicer than our old clunky one.  I think this will help at my sysadmin job, because I can just do the top ticket, and work from there.  They’ll never be gone, but at least I can see what to do next.  For the rest of my jobs (writing, producing videos), that doesn’t work, because there’s not just a list of things that need to be done, it varies and changes.

So I’ve been trying to think what might actually work.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

  • Get up early and try to accomplish one thing before anyone else gets up.  Getting up early sucks, but if I only have to accomplish one thing, it might not be so bad.  Plus, I can have a nice quiet hot beverage, and maybe my creativity will flow a bit.
  • Make a daily list of things to do.  NOT all the things I have to do (30 mile driveway again), but rather a smaller list of things that I need to accomplish THAT DAY.  I think I’ll put this on paper, because if I put it on something electronic, I’ll spend weeks designing the perfect list software…
  • When I’m done with the list, STOP WORKING.  I think this is important, because I suffer pretty badly from burnout.  It seems like I never accomplish anything, so stopping cold turkey probably won’t really change productivity, but perhaps it will help my brain.
  • Do something fun every day.  I miss fun stuff.  Perhaps this is a silly video.  Perhaps this is a silly poem.  Perhaps this is just a snowball fight with the dog.  Whatever it is, I think I should insist on doing something fun.  For science!
  • Take time to read.  Even if it’s just a little.  Reading is brain exercise, and quite frankly, my brain is getting flabby.  I need to tone it up a bit.

So that’s it.  It’s not a list of New Year’s resolutions, because those never work.  It’s not some new "system" I’m going to get caught up in.  It’s just me brainstorming how to get stuff done, and be happy while I do it.  That last part seems important, ya know?  I’m open for suggestions on how to get stuff done without instilling the wrath of Mr. Shame Spiral, but we’ll see how my plan goes.  I spoke with Fred about it, and he seems to think it’s a grand idea.  Although, to be honest, I think he just wants me to feed him earlier, so he was in favor of the early rising thing.  🙂

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Meet Fred The Fish https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/19/meet-fred-the-fish/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/19/meet-fred-the-fish/#comments Sun, 19 Dec 2010 19:55:40 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1708 I read that fish relieve stress. I also know that caring for fish can be very stressful. Ironic that. So, following the advice of my Internet friends on Twitter, I decided to adopt a betta fish. I have a 1.5 gallon tank, and he seems quite happy. He likes to strut his stuff and flare ... Read more

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I read that fish relieve stress. I also know that caring for fish can be very stressful. Ironic that. So, following the advice of my Internet friends on Twitter, I decided to adopt a betta fish. I have a 1.5 gallon tank, and he seems quite happy. He likes to strut his stuff and flare his gills and fins quite often, and has a healthy appetite for blood worms.

I’m sure some of your are just itching to comment on how a 1.5 gallon tank is too small for a betta, but I assure you I’ve done a lot of research. I’m not putting any other fish in the tank, and while I wanted to get a 3 gallon aquarium, I couldn’t find any that I liked. If Fred turns out to be awesome, perhaps he’ll graduate to a bigger tank someday. For now, he’s like a college fish living in a dorm room. Hey, it beats those little torture bowls they live in at pet stores. 🙂

I’ll try to get photos of him all flared out, but right now I’m waiting for the bubbles on the tank to go away. They block my view of his awesome.

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What Are Your Traditions? https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/15/what-are-your-traditions/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/15/what-are-your-traditions/#comments Thu, 16 Dec 2010 02:12:20 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/2010/12/15/what-are-your-traditions/ It’s really interesting to visit others during the holidays.  Some folks have advent calendars, some have fake snow on the windows, heck some even have dying pine trees sitting in their livingroom decorated in a morbid mockery of their death.  (At least that’s what I assume the trees are for, we have a fake tree…) ... Read more

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The Glowing Green Eyes of Doom!  Her super power is peeing on the floor...It’s really interesting to visit others during the holidays.  Some folks have advent calendars, some have fake snow on the windows, heck some even have dying pine trees sitting in their livingroom decorated in a morbid mockery of their death.  (At least that’s what I assume the trees are for, we have a fake tree…)

Here at Chez Powers, there are a few things we do this time of year.  I’ll tell you ours, if you tell me yours.  Unless you do some creepy public urination tradition or something.  In that case, let’s just pretend you just play in the snow.  Anyway, here are some of the things we do:

Burnin’ Down the House

This was actually a tradition we started last year.  I don’t recommend it.  The plan is to make it a one time thing, as it’s a very expensive tradition, and makes for a rather rotten new year.  (Yes, it’s been long enough to joke about.  Quit yer cryin.)

Coins In Shoes on December 6th

December 6th is St. Nicholas Day, and every year we buy chocolate coins to put in our girl’s shoes.  We read the story of St. Nicholas, and start the holiday season with chocolate, which is a very good way to start it.  Unfortunately, we forget almost every year.  So we mostly remember around December 10th, read the story, and just hand out chocolate coins.  It’s a good plan, but for some reason we forget.  Still, we get chocolate, so it’s all good.

The Scavenger Hunt

This is a Powers Family favorite.  Every Christmas Eve, Mom and Dad create an elaborate chain of hidden clues.  The girls work together solving the clues and searching for the next clue, in order to find the final destination.  That final clue leads to a family gift, usually a game of some sort, that they open and we play.  It’s a great tradition, and as the girls get older, the clues get more and more difficult.  It’s so much fun to watch them work together to solve the clues, and at the end, we all get to play a game together.  It’s really cool.  We try to do this tradition on Christmas Eve, because it’s usually just our family.  It makes it special.

The Christmas Photo

Every year, we take a Christmas photo.  Actually, every year we take 6,328 Christmas photos.  Donna is really passionate about pictures, so we end up taking many photos, trying to get dogs and kids to pose correctly.  We all act like we’re upset by it, but really it’s sweet.  Donna loves the Christmas photo, and we love her – so we’re happy to oblige. 

This is actually a video, it was just so cold we froze in place

So there you go, some Powers traditions.  What are some of your traditions?  Perhaps we want to steal one or two!  (Also, if you’re looking for an idea from us – I highly recommend the scavenger hunt, it’s full of win)

Happy Holidays!

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I’m All Better! I Guess… https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/07/im-all-better-i-guess/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/07/im-all-better-i-guess/#comments Tue, 07 Dec 2010 18:07:41 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1697 I saw the doctor today, and he says I’m better! I no longer have pneumonia, I am no longer contagious, and I can return to work in the morning! Yay! Hooray! Well, sorta. I’m glad to be over the hump. Really, I am. I gotta be honest though, I thought being healed would feel a ... Read more

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I saw the doctor today, and he says I’m better! I no longer have pneumonia, I am no longer contagious, and I can return to work in the morning! Yay! Hooray!

Well, sorta.

I’m glad to be over the hump. Really, I am. I gotta be honest though, I thought being healed would feel a whole lot better. I still have a horrible cough, chest/back/neck pain, and I’m hocking up nasty critters that look like they’re about to gain sentience. I do have a prescription for Prednisone, so hopefully that will finish off whatever ails me. In the meantime, I’m going to celebrate my health with a certain amount of trepidation and concern.

I guess now is that whole “recovery” period people have been talking about. Getting old sucks. 🙂

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My Unfortunate Doctor Visit https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/01/my-unfortunate-doctor-visit/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/12/01/my-unfortunate-doctor-visit/#comments Wed, 01 Dec 2010 21:31:21 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1694 If you’ve been following me on Twitter, Facebook, or suchthelike, you most likely know that I’m absurdly sick. Today is the 13th day I’ve been bedridden, and it’s getting frustrating. I started with what I think was Influenza (I say that instead of “Flu”, because the stomach flu is what most people call the “Flu”, ... Read more

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If you’ve been following me on Twitter, Facebook, or suchthelike, you most likely know that I’m absurdly sick. Today is the 13th day I’ve been bedridden, and it’s getting frustrating.

I started with what I think was Influenza (I say that instead of “Flu”, because the stomach flu is what most people call the “Flu”, and it’s really not the flu at all. The actual flu sucks.) About a week into my misery, I apparently contracted Walking Pneumonia. I went to the doctor, he gave me drugs, tested me, etc, and send me home.

Thankfully, on Monday, my fever broke. I figured that meant I was getting better, and while I still stayed in bed, I’ve been very optimistic. Since I still have a bad cough, aches, night sweats, (and a few other issues you don’t want to know about), I did go for a follow up exam today. I expected a pat on the back and assurance all was going well.

Yeah, not so much.

The doctor was under the impression I should be better. Not relatively speaking, but completely. Like, I should be all better. So, now I’m on an even stronger medicine, and on bed rest until next week when I see the doctor. Again. Since I’ve been really good about resting and drinking fluids at home (thank you for your support, family), I don’t have to go into the hospital or anything. So far.

So the lesson for the day? Apparently you can still be pretty sick even if you don’t have a fever. Go figure. And with that, it’s back into pajamas for me. 🙁

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Dangerous Fever https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/26/dangerous-fever/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/26/dangerous-fever/#comments Fri, 26 Nov 2010 20:26:41 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1692 I’ve never had my fever spike before, at least not when I was in a place I could do nothing about it. On the way home from the doctor today, my fever went up. WAY up. I didn’t have a thermometer with me, but it’s fair to say it was a very scary experience. I ... Read more

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I’ve never had my fever spike before, at least not when I was in a place I could do nothing about it. On the way home from the doctor today, my fever went up. WAY up. I didn’t have a thermometer with me, but it’s fair to say it was a very scary experience.

I sat there and hallucinated as my face and upper body felt like it was on fire. (The hallucinations made no sense, and weren’t really funny, so I won’t bother you with details) It was freaky. We opened the window, so the snow would blow in on me, but it didn’t help much. It wasn’t until after I got more ibuprofen into my gut, and I had about an hour to let it do its thing that I started to feel human again. When I got home, my fever was below 103F, and I could think again. That was some scary crap.

The worst part? This was AFTER seeing the doctor. If I don’t start to heal soon, I’m going to have to go into the hospital. This is just crazy.

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My First Flu? Next Time Shoot Me. https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/22/my-first-flu-next-time-shoot-me/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/22/my-first-flu-next-time-shoot-me/#comments Mon, 22 Nov 2010 18:41:51 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1689 Here’s the thing, I’m a sickly man. It’s true. I seem to get every sniffle, infection, cold, pneumonia, etc that can afflict a person. Add to that my chronic migraines, and I’ve seen my fair share of bedrest. I’m pretty sure I have the flu right now. I looked up symptoms (after I tallied all ... Read more

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Here’s the thing, I’m a sickly man. It’s true. I seem to get every sniffle, infection, cold, pneumonia, etc that can afflict a person. Add to that my chronic migraines, and I’ve seen my fair share of bedrest.

I’m pretty sure I have the flu right now. I looked up symptoms (after I tallied all mine, so I didn’t become self-fullfillingly sick), and apparently flu symptoms for adults are slightly different from that of children. (The latter of which I’m familiar with getting the flu, as I’ve held several puking children in my time as a father)

It turns out adults, while they get a fever, it isn’t usually as high as children. Mine is hovering around 100F, regardless if I take medicine or not. For most people, that’s a mild fever, but my baseline temp is about 96.4F. Yes, I’m apparently partly cold blooded. Perhaps my great great grandfather was a lizard. I have also had a headache for 4 days now, which is a symptom of the flu I wasn’t aware of. Yet, apparently it is.

The thing that has had me doubting my self-diagnosed flu was the fact that I haven’t vomited at all. THEN I read that in adults, vomiting and nausea aren’t common indicators. WHICH MEANS that all the other times I assumed I had the flu because I was throwing up really didn’t mean I had the flu at all. I think this might be the first time I’ve had an actual flu in the time I can remember. (11 years, for those counting my memory)

The flu sucks.

For 4 days now, I’ve had horrible body aches, moderate headache, constant fever, no appetite (the one bonus), dizziness, confusion, chills, sweats, and malaise. The flu sucks.

Thankfully, I haven’t had any respiratory problems. I hate to say “yet”, but as I seem to be feeling worse today than any other day, it’s certainly a possibility. I assure everyone, if I start to have problems breathing, I’ll go to the hospital. I won’t argue, I’ll just go. But the reason for this post is not to make everyone worry about me. It’s to say this:

GET YOUR FLU SHOT!

I hate needles so much that I’ve avoided the flu shot like the plague itself. That won’t be the case anymore. While I’ve felt sicker (pneumonia is a doozy, let me tell you), this slow worsening is rather unsettling. So yeah, go schedule your flu shot right now.

I’m going to go drink some more TheraFlu. And scold myself for not getting a flu shot.

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7 Weight Loss Tips From Shawn https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/16/7-weight-loss-tips/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/16/7-weight-loss-tips/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 22:28:36 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1683 I’ve lost weight before. Lots of weight. In fact, over about 6 months, I lost 60 pounds. It was impressive. I felt great, looked great, and had the willpower of a hunk of granite. This time, I’m not so great with the willpower. So I’ll give you some of the things I do to help ... Read more

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I’ve lost weight before. Lots of weight. In fact, over about 6 months, I lost 60 pounds. It was impressive. I felt great, looked great, and had the willpower of a hunk of granite.

This time, I’m not so great with the willpower. So I’ll give you some of the things I do to help curb my appetite. It’s not a diet plan, it’s not a 12 step program, just some things I do that help me lose weight.

Tip 1: Have Snacks

When you eat a giant salad for lunch, you WILL be hungry at 2PM. You will NOT want more salad, and you’ll probably cave into bad snacks unless you have some good ones readily available. Have apples available. Or preferably, vegetables. Carrots are great. Yes, they are one of those “bad veggies” that are high in sugar, blah blah blah. You’ll never meet a person that is fat from carrot intake, trust me.

If plain carrots don’t light your fire, try dipping them in hummus. Hummus is magical food. It’s really great. I’d suggest making your own though, because the store bought stuff if loaded with olive oil. You can make it really low fat, and add stuff like taco seasoning for a really yummy carrot dip.

Tip 2: V-8 is Great

Yes, it’s terribly high in sodium. It’s not really cheap. For some reason, however, this low calorie drink seems to satisfy a “food” craving for me. Plus, if you get the spicy kind, it leaves your mouth feeling all hot and bothered, which makes other food not sound as appealing. If you are hungry for food, a small glass of warm or cold V-8 might make things all better for about 50 calories. It’s a caloric bargain.

Tip 3: Have Thirds

This tip is often titled “eat smaller portions”, but I like my way better. Use a small plate, and allow yourself to go back for more. I like to use a really small plate (saucer size), and go back a couple times. I don’t feel guilty getting more food, and the time it takes to go back and forth allows your body to realize it’s full. Small plates are awesome.

Tip 4: Eat Frozen Veggies. Lots of Them.

Frozen veggies are often more healthy than fresh. I’m not making that up, it’s really true. If you eat green veggies (I like broccoli and peas) in mass quantities, it will fill you up with very little caloric regret. Plus there’s lots of fiber. I think that’s supposed to be good too. Be careful you don’t get frozen veggies with sauce already built in though. Like adding a bunch of salad dressing to a salad makes it unhealthy, sauces or butter on veggies negates the “low calorie” thing. I like to microwave an entire bag of frozen broccoli, put some seasonings on it (dry, no calorie), and eat the entire thing. Sometimes I’ll chase that with a half bag of frozen peas as well.

Tip 5: Drink Water

Another staple in diet tips, this one, for me, is simply a matter of physics. Drink a lot of water before eating, and you can’t cram as much stuff in. Yes, the water “goes away” quickly, but usually we overeat because we don’t give our bodies time to feel full. This helps a little. (It’s not magic though, I mean, it’s water, not food. Don’t expect too much.)

Tip 6: Beer and Wine are not Beverages

OK, they are. But pretend they’re not. If you like beer or wine (or hard liquor I guess), treat them like desserts, not beverages. If you by a 30 pack of Bud, and chug ’em down like water — you will get a beer gut. “Beer gut” isn’t a metaphor, it’s a huge belly from drinking too much beer. 🙂 Just because it’s not sweet doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with carbs. If you really like beer, get some expensive imports, so drinking one costs like $5-$6. You won’t chug 10 of them in a row, trust me. Same goes with wine. Sure, you can drink it with dinner, but don’t think of it as something you wash your food down with — think of it as a spice or something that adds to a meal. Have a glass of water on the table if you get thirsty, don’t gulp your wine.

Tip 7: Don’t Worry About Thanksgiving

It’s one day. Anyone that has tried to eat smart on Thanksgiving knows, it sucks. Enjoy yourself. If you want to try to be smart, eat slow. You’ll know when you’re stuffed before you have to unbutton your pants!

So there you go, Shawn’s tips for losing weight. Ask me in about 6 months if it worked again. I need to lose about 50 pounds this time, and I don’t have nearly the will power I did before. 🙂

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The Honeymoon Trip https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/15/the-honeymoon-trip/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/15/the-honeymoon-trip/#comments Tue, 16 Nov 2010 01:41:15 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1679 Donna and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary this month. 15 years. Yes, it amazes me that someone would put up with for that long as well. Still, in all that time, we’ve never been on a honeymoon, or even a vacation with just the two of us. I started planning a vacation for our ... Read more

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Donna and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary this month. 15 years. Yes, it amazes me that someone would put up with for that long as well. Still, in all that time, we’ve never been on a honeymoon, or even a vacation with just the two of us.

I started planning a vacation for our 15th anniversary quite a while back, but then our house burned down, construction costs skyrocketed, and now every last bit our our savings has been spent on our new house. That’s not a complaint, as our house is wonderful, but it makes a vacation impossible this month. We also planned a tropical vacation, somewhere with a beautiful beach where Donna could lay in the sun and I could stare at her read a book. The more we talked about it though, the more we thought a traveling vacation would be fun. So after a brainstorming session with my friend Kyle, we figured out what sounds like the perfect vacation, at least for us:

Sometime this summer, we’ll fly to San Diego (or somewhere in SoCal), where we’ll take a cab to the Volkswagen Beetle we will have purchased in advance. We considered renting a convertible, but a one-way rental of a sports car is really expensive. So we’re going to buy a car and keep it. Plus, driving home we save on half the plane fare, so in the end we get a car as a souvenir for little more than a rental would cost.

We’re going to take 10 days or so and travel north along the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping along the way to see the sites, visit with friends, and just enjoy ourselves. We plan to end our northerly trek in Seattle (again visiting friends and checking out the things to see), and then turn east to head home. It will take 4-5 days traveling cross country to get home, but since it’s part of the vacation itself, it will be fun!

Granted, a two week vacation driving across country will be expensive, especially when buying a classic car is part of the cost — but we have some time to save up for the journey, and I suspect the memories we’ll have will be more exciting than 6 days and 7 nights in a bungalow on a beach. (Not that we can’t do that someday as well!)

Anyway, making it public here will help motivate me to really make it happen. If you live in southern California, please keep your eye out for a classic convertible bug, please! (UPDATE: A 1975 or older model, to avoid the crazy California emissions stuff, thanks Dr. Phil!) I’m so excited about this trip, I can’t wait until summer!

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On Being Happy https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/14/on-being-happy/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/11/14/on-being-happy/#comments Mon, 15 Nov 2010 02:50:33 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1670 WARNING: This post is a long, wordy, self-discovery thread in which I reveal more about myself than anyone likely cares to know. It’ll probably be boring. Feel free to click away now, I won’t be offended. 🙂 I wish I would follow my own advice. Really, I do. See, my simple advice to everyone is ... Read more

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WARNING:

This post is a long, wordy, self-discovery thread in which I reveal more about myself than anyone likely cares to know. It’ll probably be boring. Feel free to click away now, I won’t be offended. 🙂

I wish I would follow my own advice. Really, I do. See, my simple advice to everyone is a two step process:

  1. Figure out what you love to do.
  2. Do that thing.

I don’t mean that in some existential, universal happiness, hippy circle, kumbaya crap. I mean your career. Your job. You daily doings. The thing you spend most of your life doing. That thing.

For me, it’s taken 35 years to figure out what it is I love to do. For a long time I thought it was working on computers. I’m good with technology. And I enjoy technology. But it’s really not what I love. Shocked? Don’t be. I like bagels and cream cheese too, but I don’t want to have a career of eating them. Computers and technology are things I enjoy doing, things I understand, things I have an intuitive ability to fix. That doesn’t excite me when I wake up in the morning though. I don’t ever want to go to work in the morning.

Over the past few years, I’ve had the opportunity to work at Linux Journal. It involves computers, technology, and allows me to write. I love writing. I really do. For the past few years, I actually thought it was writing that was the thing I should be doing every day. I actually do wake up in the morning thinking about writing. I love writing. In fact, writing allows me to fill that need deep in my soul that truly brings me a wellspring of joy.

But honestly, writing isn’t “the thing” I love.

This was a confusing revelation for me. When I write, I can feel fulfilled, totally. It does give me that soul soothing comfort everyone hopes to get from their job. Yet, I struggle to keep a diary. If writing were really my ultimate passion, a diary or journal would be like my own little crack pipe. But it turns out that I really don’t like to write in a journal. Because no one reads it. And that’s when it struck me.

I like to entertain.

For a long time, I told Donna that more than anything in the world, I like to make people smile. And I do love to make people smile. But like writing, it’s just a tool for my ultimate passion. Entertaining. That may sound hokey. It may sound like hippy circle, kumbaya crap — but really, entertaining people is my passion. It’s taken me 35 years to figure that out.

So now I’m stuck in a rough situation. I know what I love. That knowledge is powerful, it really is. It’s freeing. It’s fulfilling. It’s awesome. Unfortunately, my life is no longer all about me. I have a family that I deeply love and care for. In fact, I love my family more than I love myself. It’s true. I’m not upset that I have responsibilities that prevent me from “following my dream” right now. I’m thrilled to have a family to care for. So I choose to work in a stable job that provides financial stability for those I love.

If that job proves to be detrimental to the happiness of my family, however, I have no reason to stay. See, money and health insurance are important, but a father and husband is even more important. If the stress of my current job is killing me, and making me a father I don’t want to be, I can quit with the confidence I’ve done the right thing. That, my friend, is some powerful knowledge.

So I leave you with this:

  1. Know what you love.
  2. If you can, do what you love.
  3. Don’t let what you’re doing change who you are.

The last point is important. Remember who you are, and who your family loves. Don’t let a bad career choice change who you are. If you do, you kill the person your family loves, and become a poor substitute. I’m working hard to make sure that doesn’t happen to my family, I urge you to do the same.

Life is too short. Carpe Diem. Trust me, it can be gone in the blink of an eye. Live your life to the fullest, please.

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When Do You Read? https://brainofshawn.com/2010/10/03/when-do-you-read/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/10/03/when-do-you-read/#comments Sun, 03 Oct 2010 18:42:04 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1667 I have books. I have eBooks. I have eBook readers. (Yes, plural) I have eBook conversion tools. I have shelves. I have books on those shelves. I have a “shame pile” of books to read that could easily intimidate the most avid bookworm. Yet I can’t seem to find the time to read. When I ... Read more

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I have books. I have eBooks. I have eBook readers. (Yes, plural) I have eBook conversion tools. I have shelves. I have books on those shelves. I have a “shame pile” of books to read that could easily intimidate the most avid bookworm.

Yet I can’t seem to find the time to read.

When I do, I’m never sorry. Ever. Any time I’ve stayed up late reading a book, any sleepiness in the morning is worth it, because books are like magic. Real magic, the kind you get to live out just by reading them.

So my question is, when do YOU do most of your reading? I know many of you read like crazy, so much so that I’m bitterly jealous. *cough* Candy *cough* So I’m curious, when do you do the bulk of your reading? Is it right before bed? Do you read in bed? Is it in the morning? At lunch? All of the above?

I also wonder if you have to make yourself stop what you’re doing to take time to read. I think if I want to actually do some reading, I’ll have to make myself stop working. I know I work too much, so that might be a good thing.

So simply put, when do you read?

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The Defattification Process Has Begun https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/14/the-defattification-process-has-begun/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/14/the-defattification-process-has-begun/#comments Tue, 14 Sep 2010 20:14:03 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1660 OK, here’s the deal. Those of you that know me know I struggle with migraines. Like, really really struggle with them. Well, I’m on a new cocktail of prescription drugs that seems to be working at keeping migraines at bay — but one of the side effects is that I am gaining weight. And boobs. ... Read more

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OK, here’s the deal. Those of you that know me know I struggle with migraines. Like, really really struggle with them. Well, I’m on a new cocktail of prescription drugs that seems to be working at keeping migraines at bay — but one of the side effects is that I am gaining weight. And boobs. I suspect the two are closely related. 🙂

Anyway, while my life certainly hasn’t gotten any less busy, it’s still true that for the majority of my day, I sit in a chair and type on a computer. I figured it would be awesome if I could transform my work desk into a standing treadmill desk. It would help me lose weight, make me healthier in general, promote a healthy mindset at school, and not take any MORE time out of my already crazy life. I say that’s win-win. (Well, actually win win win win, but who’s counting)

One of the first problems with building a treadmill desk is that such endeavors can be quite expensive. Since we just bought a house (yes insurance covered some, but we ended paying upwards of 80K, so needless to say, money is tight) I figured I had about a $10 budget. 🙂 Thankfully, my mother in law said I could use her treadmill, which was collecting dust in the shed of the last person that borrowed it. That was the first big expense, and it cost me $0. Well within budget.

The next hurdle was to get my desk, well, on the treadmill. Or in front of it, or something like that. This treadmill is on the small side, so I guesstimated it would fit under the desk, and I could just raise my desk up to accommodate the height of me standing on the treadmill. I guessed on how high it would have to go, and went to the lumber yard. I bought 12 cinder blocks. (Bricks, the kind you build houses with.) They were just over a buck a piece, so while I went over my $10 budget, it wasn’t by much. So here are the materials I had to work with:

Hauling bricks is hard work. I just want to put that out in the universe. Go hug a bricklayer or something, those folks work hard for a living. Anyway, I never really measured, but I sorta figured raising the desk by 3 blocks would allow the treadmill to fit underneath it. I had no idea if that would make the desk too high — and quite honestly, when I stacked the bricks, I was a little nervous.

As it turns out, I had to rearrange this really nice brick layout, because my electrical outlet is behind one of the bricks on the right. After asking Donna (my wife) to help me lift the desk, it was time to hook stuff back up and get the treadmill in place. Why did I ask Donna to help me? Because if it was a colossal failure, I knew she’d be kind. 🙂 Here is the finished treadmill desk:

How does it work? Well, I only walked on it for about two hours today, since I put it in place during my lunch hour. In those few hours though, I learned a few things.

  1. Converse All-Stars, while the most amazing and awesome shoe ever created, are not good for walking on a treadmill. I will be wearing my walking shoes to work from now on.
  2. Treadmills are rather loud. Probably not all of them, but this one is kinda noisy. For the price, I’m not complaining, and Donna says she can’t hear it out in the library, so I’ll live with the noise. It’s something to consider if your situation calls for more hush hush though.
  3. There are very few things that can’t be done while walking on the treadmill. Really. I’m surprised and amazed at how well I can manipulate my keyboard, mouse, etc. I can even drink coffee without spilling.
  4. I need a fan. Even walking slowly, it gets hot quickly. My office is always uncomfortably hot anyway, and walking doesn’t help. Since the treadmill is noisy anyway, I don’t think a fan will be too bad.
  5. So far, I’ve gotten many more compliments than rolled eyes. I suspected people would think I was crazy, or just playing in my office — but both students and adults alike thought it was a great idea. In fact, our phys-ed instructor was REALLY impressed with the idea.
  6. Oddly enough, I get a feeling of accomplishment when I work while walking on the treadmill. It’s not as if I’m doing anything differently, but while my “never get everything done” sort of job is often frustrating, the fact that I walked a few miles really makes the day seem more productive. It’s quite nice.

If you’ve been considering building a treadmill desk, or even just a standing desk, I’d recommend doing it similar to how I did. Try to be cheap. I have no idea if I’ll stick with this for a long time (I really hope I do), but since it cost me about $12 total — I’m not going to feel bad if I fail miserably. However, since Donna immediately claimed my awesome desk chair, if I do give up the treadmill, I don’t think I’ll get back my comfy chair… 🙂

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Remember When We Killed That Bum? https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/13/remember-when-we-killed-that-bum/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/13/remember-when-we-killed-that-bum/#comments Mon, 13 Sep 2010 23:39:33 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1656 I was sitting at work, happily working hours of overtime for no pay, when I got an instant message from a young lady that used to live with us. (She’s now in college, doing quite well — I’m incredibly proud of her, but that’s another story altogether…) Anyway, here’s how the conversation went: Jess: hi ... Read more

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I was sitting at work, happily working hours of overtime for no pay, when I got an instant message from a young lady that used to live with us. (She’s now in college, doing quite well — I’m incredibly proud of her, but that’s another story altogether…) Anyway, here’s how the conversation went:

Jess: hi
Jess: hw u doing?

Me: Eh.
Me: I’m alive. 🙂

Jess: i need your help fast

Me: What’s up?

[the next lines came faster than any human being can type]

Jess: I’m writing this with tears in my eyes, I came down here to London, United Kingdom for a short vacation unfortunately i was mugged at the park of the hotel where i stayed, all cash, credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily for me i still have my passport with me. I’ve been to the embassy and the Police here but they’re not helping issues at all and my flight leaves soonest from now but am having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won’t let me leave until i settle the bills.

[I didn’t think it was a scammer, I actually thought it was Jess pretending to be a scammer, which was funny, so I played along]

Me: But you’ve got WiFi, so that’s good.

Jess: Please, all I need now is just lend me $900 or any amount you have at hand now and you can have it wired to my name via Western Union I’ll have to show my passport as ID to pick it up here and i promise to pay you back as soon as I get back home

Me: You know — you could probably hock that laptop you’re on for 900 bones.

Jess: am on someone elses computer system here in the hotel where i am

Me: And that’s a problem?

Jess: and i won’t stay here for long

Me: Even better! Grab the computer and go!

Jess: pls do something

Me: What are you talking about, anyway?

Jess: am serious
Jess: in UK now

Me: Your IP address does not trace to the UK

Jess disconnected

At which point I thought the fun was over. I texted the real Jess to let her know her Yahoo account was compromised, and went back to work. A minute later though…

Jess: are u there?

Me: Yes, I’m here. You want me to send money to your name, to Western Union in London?

Jess: yes

Me: Who went with you?

Jess: me alone

Me: Does Marge even know you left? I saw her yesterday!
Me: Jess?

[long pause, at which point “Jess” is obviously looking over our previous conversations]

Jess: dad

[Jess calls me Dad, true, but it wasn’t really an answer to the question!]

Me: Did you tell Marge you were leaving?

[oh yeah, there is no Marge, I was watching the Simpsons in the background]

Jess: no
Jess: am sorry
Jess: i never knew it will result all this

Me: I’ll let her know you’re OK. Do you have a local Western Union I can send it to?

Jess: yes
Jess: there is one close to the hotel

Me: I actually only have $750… perhaps the hotel will let you settle?

Jess: yes

Me: Otherwise it will be a day or so before I can get the rest, the bank is closed.

Jess: am scared
Jess: the hotel management is threatening to hand me over to the police

Me: I understand. Let me know the Western Union address, and I’ll go up to the Hippry Market and send it out.

[“Hippry” was actually a typo, I was going to make up some OTHER funny name, but since it was made up anyway, it didn’t really matter]

Jess: can u go and send it now

Me: Yeah, but they need to know where
Me: When I sent money to your sister for her boob job, they needed the address of the place it was going

[Jess has no sister. I also didn’t really say boob job, but I wish I had…]

Jess: just tell them u want to send it to the information i gave to u

Me: Sweety, you just said you’re in the UK. I’m sure you’re scared, but can you get more info?

Jess: this is the address to send it to
Jess: Name: Jessica , State: London W10 4AH, Country: United Kingdom
Jess: when u get there, send it like this
Jess: Dad…. are u there

Me: Yes, I’m here.

Jess: are u going to send it now

Me: I’m calling your sister to see if she has the other $150

Jess: why not send me the $750 u have with u
Jess: send it first, so that i can settle the hotel bills

Me: I don’t want the hotel to give you a hard time, those people in the UK can be nasty

Jess: i know

[at this point I started to get tired of the conversation, so I figured I should just have fun]

Me: I hear they kill Americans sometimes if they don’t pay!

Jess: if i get that,i can settle them and they will be patient with me

Me: I just want to get you home

Jess: i know
Jess: just go and send the $750 first

Me: Also, your sister just texted me, she’s in Amsterdam. She can fly to London and meet you.

Jess: I need to settle the hotel bills as soon as possible

Me: Marge is going to be really upset though… I can’t believe you didn’t tell her!

Jess: Dad,pls don’t tell her anything about it
Jess: Dad, pls act fast am scared and starving here

Me: Hmm… Who is letting you use their computer? Is it a private location?
Me: Remember when we killed that bum so he wouldn’t rat us out?
Me: Maybe you can do the same to this computer person… Take their computer, and if they chase you… you know what to do. It’s a foreign country, they’ll never find you.

Jess: Dad… I can’t believe u are saying such things now, that i really need your help the most

Me: I mean, don’t be as cruel as you were to that person that stole your identity… They never could identify the body…

Jess disconnected

Oh well, fun while it lasted. 🙂

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How McDonald’s Messed Up Styrofoam https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/13/how-mcdonalds-messed-up-styrofoam/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/13/how-mcdonalds-messed-up-styrofoam/#comments Mon, 13 Sep 2010 18:08:43 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1652 I’m posted before about how wonderful McDonald’s Premium Roast coffee tastes. I’ve also expressed how that seems to go against everything that’s right in the universe. I mean, really good coffee? From McDonald’s??!?!?!. But alas, it’s true. That being said, while they may understand how to brew good coffee, they apparently haven’t figured out physics. ... Read more

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I’m posted before about how wonderful McDonald’s Premium Roast coffee tastes. I’ve also expressed how that seems to go against everything that’s right in the universe. I mean, really good coffee? From McDonald’s??!?!?!. But alas, it’s true.

That being said, while they may understand how to brew good coffee, they apparently haven’t figured out physics. Or perhaps they haven’t figured out Styrofoam. Let me explain.

In the photo above, you’ll see that McDonald’s has taken a regular Styrofoam cup, and covered it with paper. Perhaps so no one realizes they are still using Styrofoam, since it’s so environmentally taboo? Who knows. Anyway, you’ll see the mysterious coffee that happens to be under the paper. Anyone who drinks McDonald’s coffee very often has had a cup drip from the bottom. It’s very frustrating because you don’t expect a drip from the bottom, and since it’s dripping from underneath the paper sheath — there is no way to stop the drip. It stains your pants, your shirt, your desk, your paperwork, etc.

How does the coffee get there you might ask? Well, the answer is physics. Look at the following photo:

What starts as a small imperfection in the top of the Styrofoam cup, turns into a physics dynamo, which pumps coffee directly from under the lid onto your pants. If the paper weren’t there, you’d get an occasional drip, which your thumb would catch, at which point you’d simply adjust the lid so it no longer leaks. Thanks to the paper coating, however, the drip is quietly and sinisterly absorbed into the paper. It then wicks all the way down the cup, and begins randomly dripping from around the entire bottom of the cup.

The first few months of this were maddening. I thought I just kept getting leaky cups. It turns out it was much more complex. So my only suggestion to fellow McDonald’s coffee drinkers? Drink fast. Wicking is relatively slow. And the most frustrating part? Throw the cup away after you’re finished. I tended to use my McDonald’s cup all day, to save on disposables. If you keep using the flawed design, the dripping gets worse and worse.

So there you have it, your lunchtime physics lesson. 🙂

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Sometimes I Preach https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/12/sometimes-i-preach/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/09/12/sometimes-i-preach/#comments Sun, 12 Sep 2010 16:47:38 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1645 I don’t often post about religion or politics. Mainly because that’s not what I feel my blog is for. I just don’t want my personal blog space to be a focal point for religious and political disagreement. I want it to be a neutral ground that everyone can play in. Today, however, I figured I’d ... Read more

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I don’t often post about religion or politics. Mainly because that’s not what I feel my blog is for. I just don’t want my personal blog space to be a focal point for religious and political disagreement. I want it to be a neutral ground that everyone can play in.

Today, however, I figured I’d post the sermon message I just preached. Why? Because I think whether you agree with my religious views or not, when I preach, I try to be transparent about who I am. Don’t think of it as me preaching to you, but rather me explaining myself and my beliefs. Also — a warning, while I’m not vicious, I do disagree with the Catholic church on some issues, and I mention it here. You’ve been warned. 🙂

Prayer

Terry read from Romans 12 a little bit ago, but I want to read it again, adding a few verses around it. Please turn there, and follow along with me.

Romans 12: 9-13 — 9 Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.

My bible has little section headings in the chapters, and this section is titled, “Behave Like a Christian.” And it’s full of good stuff! Granted, that’s not a surprise, but I was just amazed at how awesome and important this list is. There’s like 14 sermons right here! I hope you brought a sandwich…

No, I’m just teasing. I’m going to focus on prayer. The thing about prayer, is that’s it’s one of the hardest things to explain to a non-believer. Our God is all-knowing, amen? Our God knows the future, amen? Our God knows the desires and cries of our heart better than we know it ourselves, amen? SO WHY ON EARTH DO WE PRAY?!?!? If anything, people without a relationship with God should be the ones praying! And that’s the key. We have a relationship with God. We have a relationship with GOD. It’s that relationship that gives us the privilege of communicating with him. God picked me. ME. He picked ME! Yes, he picked you too, but it feels a little more awesome when you say ME! Say it with me. GOD PICKED ME!

So really quickly, I want to talk about the “why” should we pray. I hope you’re sitting there thinking BECAUSE I CAN! But some of you are more analytical than that. Probably those same people that asked why they should eat broccoli as a child. You know broccoli, that green wonder-vegetable that has been linked to preventing cancer, has been shown to fend off sickness, grow strong muscles, and reduce heart disease. Why eat broccoli? BECAUSE WE CAN! But some people want more. So really quickly I want to talk about the why:

1) Because God said so. I gotta say, if God says to do it, we really shouldn’t need any more reason. Romans 12:12 says it, we just read it together. Acts 6:4, the apostles say, “but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” Paul says to ALL of us in Colossians 4:2, “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving;”, and in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Paul goes so far as to say, “Pray without ceasing.” We’re supposed to pray, and we know it because God tells us over and over. Which, makes sense. Because we’re his children. Those of you know with children know that saying something once isn’t usually enough. So we know we should pray because God tells us we should pray. But there’s more.

2) We pray because prayer changes things.

James 4:2 — You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.

John 14:13 — And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

I know some of you are ready to lynch me, thinking I’m suggesting that by praying we somehow change the will of God. Or that if we pray enough, we’ll change God’s mind. No, of course not. But James 4:2 is pretty plain, we do not have because we do not ask. Of course those things we ask for must align with the will of God, but he doesn’t say “you don’t get what you want because it doesn’t align with my will”, he says, “you do not have because you do not ask.”

God is giving us the opportunity to affect the universe by praying to him. I won’t spend the bulk of my time discussing how that works, or what it looks like in practice. But know this, your prayers are not empty words. God tells us to ask him and he will act. I believe him.

3) Because the sovereign God of the universe sent his only son to die on a cross so we could have a relationship with him. He chose us as the people he wants to speak with by passing his holy word unto us through the inspired word of men. Because of the atoning blood of Christ we can be heard by a loving and sacrificing Lord. Why do we pray? I’ll reiterate, because we can.

I could stop there, and we’d all revel in our opportunity and responsibility to pray. We’d leave here excited at the command, and honored by the privilege. But that’s not what I wanted to come here an speak to you about. I want you to be excited about prayer, so we can talk about another 3 letter word. “How.”

1) Scripted

I have to admit, I grew up going to a Catholic school. I went to Catholic mass, took Catholic communion, and confessed my sins to a Catholic priest. At which point, I received my “penance”, or “punishment.” Prayer. That’s right, in order to repay my sins (don’t get me started on why Christ’s death on the cross wasn’t sufficient for my sins, my issues with the Catholic church is another topic altogether), I had to pray to God. Doesn’t that seem a little backwards from what we just learned about “why” we pray to God? Yeah. Anyway, my point is that for me, planned, scripted, or formatted prayer leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

Then I got to thinking, one of the “punishment” prayers I was forced to repeat over and over (depending on how bad I confessed to being) was the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13. So if Jesus himself taught us to pray in this way, it can’t be bad, right? Well, if we go back to the concept of a relationship, and consider that as the church we are called the bride of Christ in Revelation 21:9-10, think about some of the most important things you’ve ever said to your spouse, if you’re married. Last week, there was a beautiful wedding here. Many of you were here when Kelly and Mark were married, and I think it’s fair to say it was one of the most important conversations they will ever have with each other. And it was fully scripted. In fact, Pastor Josh told them what to say, and they just repeated it. Yet, saying “I Do” is one of the most important and memorable things you ever say to your spouse! So scripted and formed prayers are not a bad thing. In fact, when we pray prayers from the Bible, it helps draw us closer to God himself. They are the very words he has given us. Josh may have told Mark and Kelly what to say at their wedding, but God himself has given us prayers and scripture that we can pray to him. The same is true with prayers we write down, practice, or even sing. Just as a couple can write their own vows, and it can be immensely meaningful even though it was planned and memorized, we can pray to our Lord with learned, memorized, or written prayers. By praying in this way, we show respect to God. We show reverence in our carefully thought out words. We show commitment to him in our memorization. We show that the relationship we have with him is important to us.

Like most aspects of the Christian life, however, leaning too hard to one side is dangerous. While I would argue the idea of prayer as punishment is absurd, what’s even worse about the Catholic penance I received is that I was forced to repeat the same prayers over and over. In vain. Let me repeat that: I used the words of God over and over in vain. If you say “Our Father who art in Heaven” over and over in vain — you’re breaking the third commandment given to us in Exodus 20:7. Isn’t it a little scary that we can go from reverent and loving prayer to taking the Lord’s name in vain so easily? That’s where the other type of prayer comes in. With my propensity to push against my Catholic background, I admit I tend to pray in this manner more of that in a formed or scripted one. That’s wrong on my behalf, but only in balance. It is right to pray to God in unformed ways as well.

2) Free Form

Let’s go back to the marriage example. Marriage only works when two people communicate. If I only talked to Donna in pre-scripted, memorized conversations, our relationship would suffer. Think about it for a minute:

Dear Donna, who did the dishes. Thank you for your duties. My socks are clean, our kids are fed, both weekdays and on the weekends. I’m sorry I left my underwear in the kitchen, and I forgive you for washing my coffee cup just as it was starting to form a protective layer of dried coffee on the bottom. Please make my lunch so that I might eat it at noon. I am what I am, A-man.

No, if that were how our communication went, I would fully expect Donna to smite me. Possibly with that loaf of daily bread. While we’ve talked about scripted and memorized prayers to be important, it’s just as important to have personal conversations with God. Remember, this is the God that sent his son to die so that we might have the ability to commune with him. I think he deserves that from us, don’t you? Let’s look at the bible for some guidance here:

Psalms 88
O LORD, the God who saves me, day and night I cry out before you. 2 May my prayer come before you; turn your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of trouble and my life draws near the grave.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like a man without strength.
5 I am set apart with the dead, like the slain who lie in the grave, whom you remember no more, who are cut off from your care.
6 You have put me in the lowest pit, in the darkest depths.
7 Your wrath lies heavily upon me; you have overwhelmed me with all your waves. Selah

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a prayer David learned as a child. In fact, I’d wager it’s not a prayer he hopes to repeat very often! David is pouring out his heart to God, much the same way I pour my heart out to Donna. I’m fairly certain the only person here that has ever seen me cry is my wife. I have a relationship with her that surpasses the relationship I have with any of you. How much more-so should my relationship with God be?

Praying like this is hard. It’s the sort of prayer we ask people to do “on the spot.” And when we do that, the prayers we tend to pray sound mechanical, or rehearsed. Think about it, there are some people you hear pray that you think, “Wow. That person can really pray.” Let me suggest that perhaps those people are good at public speaking. They might be good at praying too, it’s not that an eloquent speaker can’t be good at prayer — but as listeners, we have no way of knowing if that eloquent speaker is also opening their heart to God. But God knows. In fact, God knows even when we’re unable to speak, much less speak eloquently! Turn to Romans 8:26:

26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us[a] with groanings which cannot be uttered.

He even helps us express ourselves when we can’t. The Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf, and expresses those things we are unable to verbalize. Brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to take advantage of the blessing we’ve been given. We have the ear of the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the universe. Talk to him. Cry out to him. And when you can’t think of words to speak, let the Holy Spirit intercede so that you can pour your heart out to the Lord that cares, no matter what your situation. If there’s one thing I hope you leave with today, it’s a desire to speak with God. And that leads us to my third “How” point.

3) Listen.

I keep going back to the marriage metaphor, because it works so well. If you’re not married, the same is true for a parental relationship. We often like to complain. We often like to talk about ourselves. We even like to ask for advice. Very seldom, however, do we listen to what we’re told.

All too often, we’re the same way with God. It’s like that joke about the Christian on the roof of the house during the flooding in New Orleans. He’s on his roof, praying and praying for God to save him. A guy on a rowboat goes by and offers to take him to safety, but the Christian says, “No, thank you, but God will save me.” A little while later, a group of people on an island of inner tubes floats by and asks him to join them. Again he refuses, insisting the Lord will save him. Finally, after days on the roof, a helicopter flies down and drops a rope to save him. He refuses for a third time, insisting God will help him. That evening the roof on his house collapses, and the man drowns. Upon reaching heaven he asks God why he didn’t save him. God of course replies, “I sent a boat, 12 inner tubes, and a helicopter — what more did you expect!??!”

Now granted it’s not just like that in our prayer life, but it is easy for us to ignore God’s response to us. It’s easy to read the Bible, but never really listen. The bible tells us itself that it’s useful:

2 Timothy 3:16 — All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,

Yet we often forget to look in God’s revealed word for an answer to our prayers. If you want to know someone, you get to know them. The same is true with God. He hears us through prayers, and we hear him through his inspired words to us. One of my favorite lessons to teach the youth group is “How to read your Bible.” If I get an opportunity to speak again, perhaps that will be what I focus on up here. For now, just know that the main part of “how to read your Bible” is that you actually read your bible. Get to know God. Talk to him. Listen to his word. Take advantage of the relationship he allows us to have. I gotta say, knowing *about* God is one thing. Knowing him personally is quite another.

So let’s go back over what we talked about. First off, why pray?

1) Because God commands us to.
2) Because prayer makes things happen.
3) BECAUSE WE CAN!

And then how do we pray?

1) Scripted and practiced prayer.
2) Free form, and inaudible prayer.
3) By listening — ie, reading his word.

Let’s close in prayer…

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That’s Right Ladies, He Was SINGLE https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/21/thats-right-ladies-he-was-single/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/21/thats-right-ladies-he-was-single/#comments Wed, 21 Jul 2010 15:29:02 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1637 I know, it’s hard to believe, but this fine piece of 12 year old geek was single. Mind you, he had a TI-99/4A computer, a black and white television, and a laminated library card — but no woman could hold him down. In fact, it was so obvious to them, that none tried. 😀 I ... Read more

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I know, it’s hard to believe, but this fine piece of 12 year old geek was single. Mind you, he had a TI-99/4A computer, a black and white television, and a laminated library card — but no woman could hold him down. In fact, it was so obvious to them, that none tried. 😀

I know they say size doesn’t matter, but just look at those glasses. Oh yeah. You know what I’m talking about. Homeslice could see the whole computer screen without moving his head. (Coincidentally, the computer screen at that point was that aforementioned black and white TV. Uh hu, we kicked it old school.)

How did I happen upon this glorious bit of the 80s you might ask? Well, that’s what happens when your Mom starts a blog. 🙂 So far there are no bathtub photos over there, but it’s probably just a matter of time.

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On The Burning And Building Of Houses https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/20/on-the-burning-and-building-of-houses/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/20/on-the-burning-and-building-of-houses/#comments Tue, 20 Jul 2010 19:52:07 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1629 UPDATE: I just got a call from the CEO’s executive team, and the full check is being overnighted! Thank you to everyone that helped. 😀 Anyone that knows me personally or professionally knows that in January our house burned down. Many of you know that we’ve had problems getting our house replaced as well. Oddly, ... Read more

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UPDATE: I just got a call from the CEO’s executive team, and the full check is being overnighted! Thank you to everyone that helped. 😀

Anyone that knows me personally or professionally knows that in January our house burned down. Many of you know that we’ve had problems getting our house replaced as well. Oddly, while it would seem obvious to blame the insurance company, in this case Auto Owners (our home owners insurance company, I know, funny name for homeowners) has been amazing. Our problems have been with Chase Manhattan. Let me tell you a story about why there isn’t a house in this photo…

How Insurance Claims On House Fires Work

This process wasn’t something I ever considered before, but it turns out it’s a bit complicated if there is a mortgage on the house that burned. It is a 4 step process:

  1. The insurance company gets an appraisal of the structure, based on its value just before it actually burned. This is for the dwelling only, not the property, etc.
  2. The insurance company cuts a check for that amount to the homeowner AND the mortgage company.
  3. The homeowner endorses the check, and sends it to the mortgage company for them to cash and send back to the homeowner to pay the contractor. In our case, thanks to the crappy housing market, our dwelling appraised for a whopping $65,500.
  4. Once the house is set, the insurance company cuts another check to the homeowner and mortgage company for the difference in the original check and the actual cost of the house. This is what “replacement insurance” on the dwelling means. I endorse that check, send it to the mortgage company, and they cash and send it back made out to me and the contractor doing the work.

Yes, it’s complicated, but legally that’s what needs to happen. The problem is that Chase won’t release all of the first check to me. Since our house is a modular house, it’s complete when delivered. In fact, my house has been completed for weeks now, and is sitting in a warehouse in Indiana. It can’t be delivered until the contractor has the cash to pay for it.

This might seem hinky. The manufacturer needing COD for a house? But as it turns out, this is the norm. Once the house they built is on private property, they have no legal right to it. So, they insist on getting paid, especially since their job IS done. The problem is that Chase is keeping back half of the first check. This means the contractor (the middleman between me and the housing manufacturer) is expected to pay over $100,000 for a house while only being given roughly $44,000. (See, there was a $12,000 deposit the insurance company paid, plus that first half of the check already sent to the mortgage company).

If people were actually buying houses, the contractor might have enough capital to fund the house while Chase Manhattan dragged their heels. Sadly, no one is buying. No one is building. In fact, here in Michigan, people are moving away because there are no jobs. So that’s what puts us in the current pickle.

  • Without the second half of the first check, which Chase Manhattan is holding (and collecting interest on, I’m sure), we are unable to get a house placed on the foundation.
  • Without an inspection of the house ON THE FOUDATION, Chase will not release the second check.

See the problem?

Why Chase Manhattan Sucks Like The Tootsie Roll Center of the Galaxy

That was weeks ago. No, really. I’ve been dealing with Chase Manhattan since mid-June trying to figure out a solution to the problem. After hours of phone calls, and supervisors of supervisors, I finally got them to agree to investigate a deviation for us. Mind you, for the past month I’ve been faxing information they requested, getting paperwork notarized (and re-notarized, don’t ask), having my insurance company send explanation letters on company letterhead, etc, etc, etc. Every step takes 48-72 hours. Send a fax? It’s not official for 48-72 hours. Want a call back? 48-72 hours. Waiting for a decision? 48-72 hours.

So now, I’ve reached what seems like the end of my ability. I’ve been the patient customer, holding for literally hours. I’ve been the irate customer, immediately demanding to speak to supervisors by name. I’ve been the annoying customer, and when given a direct line, left multiple messages.

It never does any good. At all. Here is what I’m hoping: That you might help. Lord knows you’ve all helped my family before. I’m only asking here for publicity. If you know someone at Chase, please send them to my blog. If you are on Twitter, please tweet a link if you’re OK with that sort of thing. If you work at Chase, by all means, PLEASE email me. If you are Jamie Dimon, dude, you should know how poorly your company treats its customers.

Here is a list of email addresses. I’m sure they’re not all valid, I just came up with them based on the standard structure for Chase email addresses. They are the names of the company board members, CEO, and some of the managers I’ve spoken with inside Chase. I’m not asking you to email bomb these folks, but feel free to add any addresses in the comments so I can email them as well:

List deleted, since they’ve finally done the right thing!

My house is done. It’s been done for weeks. It would be really nice if the next 48-72 hours actually accomplished something. You have my thanks.

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Help Shawn Pick His Vanity Plate https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/16/help-shawn-pick-his-vanity-plate/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/16/help-shawn-pick-his-vanity-plate/#comments Fri, 16 Jul 2010 16:26:24 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1621 Monday is my birthday, which means I need to renew my license plates. I can’t decide which style to get. Let’s vote! Which Vanity Plate Looks Better?online surveys

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Monday is my birthday, which means I need to renew my license plates. I can’t decide which style to get. Let’s vote!




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Dear Universe, https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/13/dear-universe/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/13/dear-universe/#comments Tue, 13 Jul 2010 17:40:40 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1617 Hi! How have you been? I realize it’s been a while since I last wrote you, and quite frankly I was hoping another letter wouldn’t be necessary. It turns out, however, that you sent another one of your famous conundrums my way. I realize it may be your little brother Karma that has been shanking ... Read more

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Hi! How have you been? I realize it’s been a while since I last wrote you, and quite frankly I was hoping another letter wouldn’t be necessary. It turns out, however, that you sent another one of your famous conundrums my way. I realize it may be your little brother Karma that has been shanking me in the shower for most of the year for burning ants with a magnifying glass as a child, but to mess things up this much, I suspect you had a part in it.

See, while the house you so lovingly destroyed is just about replaced — the little catch 22 you threw into the mix is quite a beauty. The manufacturer won’t release the house until they get paid, and the escrow company won’t release the money until they inspect the house. I’m sure you see the problem, and I suspect you planned it this way. Anyway, I just wanted to write and let you know I’ve adopted a supermassive black hole. Oh, it will take some time, but ol’ Blackey will eventually suck all your belongings into nothingness.

If you’d like to work things out, I’ll be in my basement. Don’t worry, you’ll be able to see me — there’s no house covering it. I’ll be down there burning ants. Feel free to put on your ant costume and come for a visit.

Sincerely,
Your buddy and pal,
Shawn Powers

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Puffy, The Camera Slayer https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/01/puffy-the-camera-slayer/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/01/puffy-the-camera-slayer/#comments Thu, 01 Jul 2010 18:17:09 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1611 Long ago, in a land not very dissimilar from our own, there were two little girls. Their names were Lagoria and Lizzanthia. The two sisters were particularly good one season, and at the Sun Harvest Festival, their father purchased them each a fairy scribe of their own. Fairy scribes, as you know, can not write ... Read more

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Long ago, in a land not very dissimilar from our own, there were two little girls. Their names were Lagoria and Lizzanthia. The two sisters were particularly good one season, and at the Sun Harvest Festival, their father purchased them each a fairy scribe of their own. Fairy scribes, as you know, can not write words at all. They can only sketch ideas and words into pictures. Lagoria and Lizzanthia both loved the fanciful fairy sketches their mother’s High Fairy Scribe created — and their father Shagoth knew they would train their fairies to be as skilled as Lady Donaria’s one day.

Sadly, before the double moon set on the harvest celebration, Lagoria and Lizzanthia were on a photo hunt with their new fairies and fell upon a fierce dragon. Excited to get sketches of the dragon, both girls sent their trembling fairies after the dragon as it retreated into its cave. The girls stayed safely outside the cave, but knew that since fairies can’t be burned by dragon flame, the sketches they would get would be lovely.

And they were.

The sketches were magnificent. Everyone from miles around was shocked and amazed at how detailed the sketches were. Why, even the corners of the canvases were scorched, and the sulfur-laced smoke could still be smelled as if the viewer was deep within the dragon’s cave. In fact, it was so full of realism, the girls were forced to keep the sketches outside so the family wouldn’t choke from the smoke!

The problem came when the girls took their fairies out on another photo hunt. While fairies can’t be harmed by dragon fire, they aren’t immune to dragon magic. So while the fairies continued to sketch for the girls, every sketch smelled like fire and brimstone, and every sketch contained the likeness of the dragon himself. See for yourself!

So now, the girls borrow their mother’s Sketch Fairy from time to time, but apart from that have no way to record the beauty of the realm. They hope someday to be gifted with the Pink Camera of Sweetness and Light so they can once again capture their world without the taint of dragon. Until that day, the Sketch Fairies will live in agony, knowing they can not make Lagoria and Lizzanthia smile.

The End. (Or is it?)

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Hello World https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/01/helloworld/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/07/01/helloworld/#comments Thu, 01 Jul 2010 13:54:18 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1606 July should be the last month The Powers Family is displaced. This is something I find profoundly awesome. My birthday is on the 19th, and I would be quite happy for my belated birthday present to be a home. Also, school is out. ALSO, I’m half done with the super sekrit project I’ve been working ... Read more

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July should be the last month The Powers Family is displaced. This is something I find profoundly awesome. My birthday is on the 19th, and I would be quite happy for my belated birthday present to be a home. Also, school is out. ALSO, I’m half done with the super sekrit project I’ve been working on. (It’s a two part endeavor, so half done is significant, it means one part is completely done!) What does that all mean for you? Well, it means you will hopefully be hearing more from me. You will be seeing more of me in odd videos I’ll likely shoot and post. You’ll be reading more about me here. Basically, it will be as if my life were returning to normal, because as abnormal as normal is, I rather fancy it. 🙂

So, whether I’m talking about my latest escapades with weight loss and exercise, explaining why charcoal grilling is the only real grilling (Hank Hill can disagree all he wants), or speaking geek over at Linux Journal (I’m horribly behind on blogging and videos over there) — I expect in the near future you will hear more from me.

And stuff has been happening. It’s just that you don’t know about it. If you follow me on Twitter you know more than some people — but really I’ve been pretty silent for half a year or so.

Can you believe it’s been that long since our house burned down? Dang.

Anyway this post serves 2 purposes:

  1. To prepare the world for the tomfoolery I’ll likely spew upon it, and
  2. To commit to actually returning to life as I used to know it. Saying it publicly kinda makes me a jerk if I don’t follow through.

So, how have you been? 😀

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Imagine If Apple Used Their Powers For Good https://brainofshawn.com/2010/06/24/imagine-if-apple-used-their-powers-for-good/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/06/24/imagine-if-apple-used-their-powers-for-good/#comments Thu, 24 Jun 2010 15:57:11 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1603 I like Apple products. No, really. Yes I’m fanatical about Linux and open ideals, but Apple makes really nice hardware and software that “just works” well. Their products are expensive, but if the elegance is something you like, you’re willing to pay for that premium. And it’s a free market. So that’s OK. The thing ... Read more

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I like Apple products. No, really. Yes I’m fanatical about Linux and open ideals, but Apple makes really nice hardware and software that “just works” well. Their products are expensive, but if the elegance is something you like, you’re willing to pay for that premium.

And it’s a free market. So that’s OK.

The thing that fascinates me is just how much obsession and fanaticism Apple gets from their fans. It’s creepy. One look at the coverage of the iPhone 4 release day will show you just how loyal/crazy/creepy people are about Apple products. I don’t get it, and for that I’m rather thankful.

Ick factor aside, however, imagine if Apple wielded its forces for something that would benefit humanity. Imagine if all opening day iPhone purchasers had to donate $20 to fight cancer. (C’mon, they have disposable income to work with…) Or better yet, what if Apple donated $20 for every iPhone they sold on opening day. We KNOW they have some excess profits that day.

Whether you love Apple or hate them, you have to admit they do something right when it comes to keeping loyal fans. Until they go bonkers that is…

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Tigger https://brainofshawn.com/2010/06/03/tigger/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/06/03/tigger/#comments Thu, 03 Jun 2010 17:40:39 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1597

Yesterday, my family went to a local animal shelter to walk some dogs and pet some cats. As I walked “Taz”, an old dog with a mellow personality, I realized that I haven’t mourned the loss of Tigger. I want to tell you about Tigger, and while it won’t bring him back, perhaps it will ... Read more

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Yesterday, my family went to a local animal shelter to walk some dogs and pet some cats. As I walked “Taz”, an old dog with a mellow personality, I realized that I haven’t mourned the loss of Tigger. I want to tell you about Tigger, and while it won’t bring him back, perhaps it will help him to never be forgotten. And maybe, I’ll be able to get past his loss instead of just bottling it away inside.

I didn’t want a dog. Really. I didn’t want to housebreak a puppy, I didn’t want to worry about feeding and caring for a dog every day. I didn’t want to find a dog sitter every time we left town. Dogs were messy, stinky, hairy, and stressful. That day so many years ago when the girls were staring over the fence next to the church, and gawking at puppies, it was very clear to everyone we were NOT getting one. Still, puppies are cute, so I walked over to the pen myself in order to gather my girls and look at the clumsy little pups as all the kids from church reached through the fence to pet their noses.

When I got to the fence, I saw just what I expected. Sure enough, there were puppies gathered at the fence, stepping on each other to get closer to the children that were giving them affection (and possibly crumbs of cookie still stuck on their fingers from Sunday School.) What I didn’t expect to see was a puppy halfway to the fence laying spread eagle and wagging his stub of a tail, but not coming over to get scritched. I thought perhaps he was shy, or scared, or that he had just eaten so much food that he ran out of gas on the way over to the kids. Moments later, however, I saw the problem.

All the pups had slight neurological problems, and walked a bit more awkward than a normal clumsy puppy. I hadn’t noticed before, but realized it after looking for a while. This pup, however, was much much worse. He had spent the 15 minutes or so since church got out trying to get over to the fence, but had only made it halfway before collapsing from exhaustion. His back legs couldn’t quite support his weight, and try as he might, he never made it over to the giddy children. It was in that heartbreaking moment of realization that Tigger became my dog. Honestly, I didn’t even know it yet, but looking back — it was that moment.

I jumped the fence, decked out in my Sunday best, and walked over to the squirmy puppy. Since he was unable to walk, he was covered in mud (and probably other things), but I picked him up anyway. I wish I could describe the joy that little puppy showed when I picked him up. There are some amazing joyful times in life for people: The birth of a child, scoring the winning point in a game, marrying your spouse — but in the life of a dog, I don’t think it’s possible to be more happy than Tigger was at that moment.

I carried him out of the gate, over to our van, and into our lives.

Looking back, it seems like a rather bold move for me to make, introducing a dog, especially a crippled dog, into our house without talking to Donna about it. I don’t recall her ever questioning me though. We took him home, cleaned him up, and let him play in the front yard with the girls. It was that day he got his name. See, Tigger wasn’t strong enough to walk, but when he tried, his back legs would bounce his butt up and down. He didn’t walk, but he sure could bounce! Thus, Tigger was his name.

That summer proved to be quite challenging for Tigger. The vet told us he would probably never walk right. He had about a 3/4″ overbite, bad legs, he shook constantly, and had possible brain damage — but his brain didn’t appear to be swollen, and he wasn’t in any pain. The best we could do would be to walk him often and strengthen his back legs so he could get around.

Yes, house training a dog that can’t walk is a challenge. Thankfully, since he constantly shook, Tigger liked to sleep wedged between the couch and the wall to help hold still. We knew when to take him outside, because as he came out from behind the couch, he would bang against the wall as he tried to get up. “THUMP THUMP THUMP!” It was time to carry Tigger outside to do his business. 🙂

Every day we would walk and walk with Tigger. At first he would only make it to the end of the driveway before collapsing, but as days turned into weeks he was able to go for short walks. We’d generally walk him as far as we could get him to go, and then I’d carry him on the way back home. The bigger and stronger (and heavier and harder to carry!) he got, the further he was able to go. We started tying his leash to the stroller, and he would pull the girls along on our walk. It was good for him, and the girls though it was awesome. Summertime sled dog!

While he had a taste for garbage (not so much in his older years), and he liked tangling with skunks (actually more often the older he got), Tigger was the best dog I could ever imagine having. He spent almost a year sequestered from the family due to an undiagnosed thyroid problem, which caused a constant nasty skin infection. But his last days were spent with the freedom to roam around the house again. He lived longer than the vets ever expected, and almost fully overcame his leg problems. Tigger had a funny little limp when he ran, but he was able to run and play throughout most of his life.

Sadly, Tigger was in the house when it burned in January. When I opened the front door to search for the animals, I found him, already gone right by the front door. With all the grown up responsibilities, duties to perform, children to care for, home to provide — I’ve never really taken the time to think about Tigger. My dog. My friend. My loyal companion.

So Tigger, it breaks my heart that you’re gone. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. And while your passing rips out my heart, I can honestly say that even though I’m typing this through the blur of tears — that look on your face when I picked you up after church all those years ago makes my pain bearable. Thanks for being there for me, when I didn’t even know I needed you.

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Fire and Smoke, Awesome Edition https://brainofshawn.com/2010/05/30/fire-and-smoke-awesome-edition/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/05/30/fire-and-smoke-awesome-edition/#comments Sun, 30 May 2010 23:05:45 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1593 Yesterday I blogged about my day of awesome. There was one little thing I left out — the family bought me a combination early Father’s Day and birthday gift in the form of an awesome grill! If you think an awesome grill would have propane fire, quite frankly you don’t know the awesomeness that is ... Read more

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Yesterday I blogged about my day of awesome. There was one little thing I left out — the family bought me a combination early Father’s Day and birthday gift in the form of an awesome grill!

If you think an awesome grill would have propane fire, quite frankly you don’t know the awesomeness that is charcoal. Here you can see me with my ninja cooking utensils and my chimney starter full of burning briquettes. (If you don’t have a chimney starter, go buy one. You’ll be thankful you did.)

Just out of frame is a bowl of soaking hickory chips. I debated whether to use hickory or mesquite, but since it’s the beginning of summer, I figure I can alternate all year. Because really there’s no wrong answer. Mmmmmm…

I hope your weekend is half as good as mine. I’d wish it to be as awesome, but I fear you might explode. 🙂

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The Best Day Evar! https://brainofshawn.com/2010/05/29/the-best-day-evar/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/05/29/the-best-day-evar/#comments Sun, 30 May 2010 01:31:22 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1589 If you follow me on Twitter, you know that today I went fishing. It was the first time in about a decade that I’ve gone, and while I didn’t even get the slightest hint of a nibble, it was awesome! Then the day got better. I sent an email to the staff at school, and ... Read more

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If you follow me on Twitter, you know that today I went fishing. It was the first time in about a decade that I’ve gone, and while I didn’t even get the slightest hint of a nibble, it was awesome!

Then the day got better. I sent an email to the staff at school, and even on a holiday weekend — I got a couple replies with good fishing spots in the area!

And THEN it got even BETTER! My family went to a graduation open house (Hi Kari!) and afterward our kids didn’t want to leave. We found them rides, and Donna and I went out for ice cream and a walk around town. It was the closest thing to a date we’ve had in months, and it was extremely awesome.

AND THEN Donna agreed to go two tracking with me to try finding the remote fishing spot, which Google is showing off in the photo above. The road was deep, loose sand — and we almost got stuck! Thankfully we didn’t, but it was just scary enough to be exciting.

Granted, I didn’t get any work done today. Granted I’m way behind. But it’s also a holiday weekend, and the first day off I’ve taken since before I can remember.

I hope YOUR day was as awesome as mine, but honestly, it doesn’t seem possible. 🙂

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Let’s Just Pretend https://brainofshawn.com/2010/05/17/lets-just-pretend/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/05/17/lets-just-pretend/#comments Mon, 17 May 2010 14:29:55 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1585 It’s Monday. If it’s not Monday when you read this, chances are it’s one of Monday’s six miserable siblings. Like my pasta-addicted buddy Garfield, I hate Monday. So here’s my tip to make Monday, or any other day, full of awesome. (Or at least less full of suck…) Pretend. Yep, that’s right, just pretend. Pretend ... Read more

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It’s Monday. If it’s not Monday when you read this, chances are it’s one of Monday’s six miserable siblings. Like my pasta-addicted buddy Garfield, I hate Monday. So here’s my tip to make Monday, or any other day, full of awesome. (Or at least less full of suck…)

Pretend.

Yep, that’s right, just pretend. Pretend you’re having a great day. Pretend it’s fun. Pretend Monday’s insidious thorns are cute, but nothing to ruin a day. Smile at everyone. Be silly. Walk with a limp for no reason. Talk like a pirate. Tape M&M’s to your face. Whatever you do, pretend you’re having fun. Because here’s the secret: You will.

And remember, tomorrow is Tuesday. 🙂

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Music Week? https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/16/music-week/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/16/music-week/#comments Fri, 16 Apr 2010 19:33:58 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1581 A bunch of my UCF friends have been posting songs all week on their blogs. Well, I wanna play too. Here’s Jonathan Coulton performing “The Future Soon”. His music is fun, well done, and pretty geeky. Enjoy, and Happy Friday!

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A bunch of my UCF friends have been posting songs all week on their blogs. Well, I wanna play too. Here’s Jonathan Coulton performing “The Future Soon”. His music is fun, well done, and pretty geeky. Enjoy, and Happy Friday!

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Send in the Zombies, I’m Done with this Brain https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/11/send-in-the-zombies/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/11/send-in-the-zombies/#comments Sun, 11 Apr 2010 22:15:10 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1578 They say fear is the mind killer. I’d guess the one that wrote that never had migraine pain. Unless of course it’s the fear a migraine won’t go away. Because that might actually be true. Don’t worry, I’m not getting suicidal or anything — I’m just swinging precariously at the end of my sanity rope. ... Read more

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They say fear is the mind killer. I’d guess the one that wrote that never had migraine pain. Unless of course it’s the fear a migraine won’t go away. Because that might actually be true.

Don’t worry, I’m not getting suicidal or anything — I’m just swinging precariously at the end of my sanity rope. (Yes yes, there’s an argument to made as to whether I ever had that rope to begin with…) See the problem isn’t so much with the pain, it’s with the consequences. Spending 60 hours a week with a headache so bad you can’t function (or at least not well) takes its toll on other aspects of a person’s life.

It wouldn’t be so bad if I kept up with my early-adulthood trend of doing jobs that were manual labor type. But I went and started using my brain. So all those things I need to get done can’t be done by a temp. That sucks. I’m not brilliant or anything, but I have unique and specialized skills. Ah, notoriety, thou art a heartless wench.

Friggen migraine. Ok, I’m off to go take another prescription assault on my liver. If you know any zombies, send them my way. I think my brain might be a bitter, bitter snack, but I’m fed up with it myself.

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On Raising Girls https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/07/on-raising-girls/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/07/on-raising-girls/#comments Wed, 07 Apr 2010 15:48:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1573 My oldest girl turned 13 this past weekend. Those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook probably heard about the big party she had, and how her old man struggled to deal with 15 teenage girls. Honestly though, the party was fine, the girls all behaved (for the most part), and Amanda made me ... Read more

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My oldest girl turned 13 this past weekend. Those of you following me on Twitter or Facebook probably heard about the big party she had, and how her old man struggled to deal with 15 teenage girls. Honestly though, the party was fine, the girls all behaved (for the most part), and Amanda made me proud. She and her sisters are good girls, and while the next 10 years will most likely be filled with stress and drama around the Powers house — I’m confident they’ll turn out to be the successful young ladies we’ve raised them to be. Mind you, by successful I mean oh so much more than financially successful. I certainly hope for that, but really it’s only a small part of success.

Why am I confident our girls will turn out OK? Quite honestly there are many reasons. One, we really won the lottery when it comes to progeny, and the 3 girls are fine examples of human beings. That means they are good little lumps of clay. That also means they need to be molded. While I don’t claim to be a great parent, I think we’ve done pretty good so far. The next decade will really tell the story, but I wanted to share some insight at this point. Perhaps I’ll look back at this and bitterly laugh at myself, but even if that’s the case, I doubt I’d change anything in the past.

Discipline and Punishment are Not the Same Thing

Donna and I are strict disciplinarians. We were even more strict when the kids were younger (seriously). Being strict when your kids are young means that you earn credibility early on. You earn respect. You earn trust. If there is one thing I wish I could convince young parents it is that discipline is not mean. Children crave discipline, whether they know it or not. Ask any decent sports coach. A team with discipline is a more effective, and happier team.

But here’s the rub: Discipline is hard. I’m no Dr. Spock, but if you think discipline is just punishing a child when they misbehave, Ur doin it rong. Discipline is an elaborate dance involving consistency, firmness, fairness, and most of all, communication. No, life isn’t fair — but as parents, you certainly ought to be!

Kids are Smart. They’re Immature Sometimes, but Smart.

There is a drastic difference between a child that is angry at you for punishing them, and a child that thinks you are incorrect for punishing them. No, you can’t always convince a child they need to be punished, but if you’re open with them, they’re more likely to respect your reasoning.

The funny thing about discipline and consistency is that if you explain to your child why you’re punishing them — even if they vehemently disagree, they’ll understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Very often, if you don’t punish them, you lose all credibility. Again, even if they don’t admit or realize it, kids like discipline.

Put Away the Shotgun.

The strong father figure cleaning his shotgun is fine. Really. I have no problem with putting the fear of God into a young man as he’s given the responsibility of caring for the father’s daughter. For me, however, I’d look absurd cleaning a shotgun. Guns aren’t my thing. Oh, I’m intimidating, and any boy will tremble before he takes out my daughters — but my weapon of choice is psychology. Your mileage may differ.

Here’s the thing though, you can be as scary as you want, your daughter is the one that will ultimately make choices on how the evening goes. There is nothing more formidable than a confident young lady that trusts and respects her parents, knowing they trust and respect her in return. Let me repeat that, as it’s so vital, there is nothing more formidable than a confident young lady that trusts and respects her parents, knowing they trust and respect her in return. Sure, I can be the muscle, but it’s her life, she has to be the brains.

And with that, I’m going to go talk to my kids. You should do the same. (Not my kids, but you know what I mean…)

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Pranks Are Lame, Long Live TMI Day!!! https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/01/pranks-are-lame-long-live-tmi-day/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/04/01/pranks-are-lame-long-live-tmi-day/#comments Thu, 01 Apr 2010 14:57:37 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1569 Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed a good April Fool’s Day silliness as much as the next online person — but this year, I think the pranks just seem a bit too 2007. So I say, this year (and possibly the next 2010 years) we try to out-awkward each other. I declare today, “TMI Day!” ... Read more

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Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed a good April Fool’s Day silliness as much as the next online person — but this year, I think the pranks just seem a bit too 2007. So I say, this year (and possibly the next 2010 years) we try to out-awkward each other. I declare today, “TMI Day!”

I’m doing my TMI-ing on Twitter. Feel free to join me. I’m using the #TMI hashtag. It should be fun, like that time I peed on an anthill, and while I wasn’t looking, urine-covered ants crawled up my leg leaving little damp trails. #TMI

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Shawn’s Super Quick Netflix Wii-view https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/26/shawns-super-quick-netflix-wii-view/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/26/shawns-super-quick-netflix-wii-view/#comments Fri, 26 Mar 2010 15:51:47 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1558 Got my disk in the mail, and thought I’d stop home at lunch to try it out. Here are my thoughts, shot out into quick bullets: The interface is the best Netflix interface I’ve used yet. It’s easy to navigate your queue, similar titles, recent additions to the streaming library, etc. Activating your Wii is ... Read more

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Got my disk in the mail, and thought I’d stop home at lunch to try it out. Here are my thoughts, shot out into quick bullets:

  • The interface is the best Netflix interface I’ve used yet. It’s easy to navigate your queue, similar titles, recent additions to the streaming library, etc.
  • Activating your Wii is painless, and done online. (Like the PS3 and Roku) No need to try typing your email address and password into the Wii.
  • For those of you that have a hacked Wii with a USB drive for storing games — good news, the Netflix disk rips quickly, and runs from USB with no problems whatsoever.

So basically, I have a Netflix disk for a Wii if anyone wants to use it. AND, I suspect you’ll be able to download the Netflix Wii ISO from nefarious sites everywhere shortly. Heck, if you twist my arm I might rip it myself. (But I’ll never admit it online, because that would be RONG. 🙂 )

And now? Back to work… ttfn

UPDATE: Wow, look, a fancy download link for a WiiNetflix.iso file. I’m not claiming to be responsible, but, um… Yeah. You can trust the link. 🙂

UPDATE THE SECOND: Yes, it’s only 37MB compressed. It expands to 4.7GB. Also, contrary to popular belief, I’m not a douche. 😉

UPDATE THE LAST: You don’t need an ISO file anymore, there is a Netflix channel. If you need to install the new shopping channel so you can download Netflix, but don’t want to update your system, check out THIS LINK. Cheers!

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Some Visuals of the House https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/16/some-visuals-of-the-house/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/16/some-visuals-of-the-house/#comments Wed, 17 Mar 2010 00:17:33 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1547 Here is our burned house. Don’t let the outside fool you — it’s totaled. If anyone would want to preserve it, it would be the insurance company, and even they agree demolition is the only option. Also, the contents are a total loss. Here’s what it looks like though: The house we’re putting up in ... Read more

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Here is our burned house. Don’t let the outside fool you — it’s totaled. If anyone would want to preserve it, it would be the insurance company, and even they agree demolition is the only option. Also, the contents are a total loss. Here’s what it looks like though:

The house we’re putting up in its place will be bigger, and sport a half basement. Here’s the floorplan:

Click on floorplan to embiggenate

The basement will only be rough plumbed, and we’ll finish it in the future. We plan to eventually have a kitchenette, bedroom, and bathroom down there, along with a media center. Since this house will cost about $50K-$60K more than insurance will pay, we’re going to be scrimping everywhere we can…

Anyway, just wanted to update everyone! Hope you’re having a great day. 🙂

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Sometimes You’re the Dog, Sometimes You’re the Sprinkler https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/15/sometimes-youre-the-dog-sometimes-youre-the-sprinkler/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/15/sometimes-youre-the-dog-sometimes-youre-the-sprinkler/#comments Mon, 15 Mar 2010 15:00:38 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1543 Very rarely, you get to be the photographer. Just sayin.

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Very rarely, you get to be the photographer. Just sayin.

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Getting Lost in the Crowd https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/13/getting-lost-in-the-crowd/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/13/getting-lost-in-the-crowd/#comments Sat, 13 Mar 2010 16:03:12 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1539 I’m at a conference this weekend! This time, it’s not a Linux conference. I’m at a church leadership conference, and boy has it been interesting. The most interesting part, sadly, hasn’t been the content — but rather my inability to handle the huge mobs of people. If you’ve known me for a while, you know ... Read more

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I’m at a conference this weekend! This time, it’s not a Linux conference. I’m at a church leadership conference, and boy has it been interesting.

The most interesting part, sadly, hasn’t been the content — but rather my inability to handle the huge mobs of people. If you’ve known me for a while, you know that after my car accident it was difficult for me to be in crowds of people. That’s still largely the case, but I don’t seem to have that problem at Linux conferences. I thought, foolishly, that perhaps I was outgrowing my issues with crowded rooms. As it turns out, Linux conferences for me are more like public speaking, even if I’m not actually speaking…

If “how brains work” doesn’t interest you at all, you may want to bail on this blog post now. HERE is a great link that will make you laugh away any guilt you may have for leaving early. Really. I don’t mind. 🙂

It turns out people with difficulties dealing with large crowds (I’m sure there is some long “phobia” for the condition) can often speak to a crowd of people without that anxiety being a problem. It seems strange, but I can attest to the fact that speaking in front of a crowd is very different than being a part of the crowd. While speaking in front of crowds is certainly stressful for many people, for some reason it’s much less difficult for me to speak to 1,000 people than to sit in chairs next to 1,000 people listening to someone else speak.

For a while I was concerned that it was an ego thing. Maybe it ultimately is, but for some reason I just seem uncomfortable in large crowds of people unless I’m the center of attention. See, it sounds horrible doesn’t it?!?!? At Linux conferences, I’m certainly not usually the center of attention, but since I’m there representing something bigger than myself (Linux Journal), it seems a bit more like I’m one of the circus acts people are there to see.

So here I am sitting in the car in the parking lot. I needed a break from the crowd. Feel free to draw your own conclusions on my anxiety issues and how they pertain to my ego. Judge me. Be sickened by me. Call me a jerk. But please, if I’m at your conference, make me dance like a monkey. Apparently it soothes me. 🙂

Photo credit to vividbreeze on Flickr

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2010. Wow. Just Wow. https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/08/2010-wow-just-wow/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/08/2010-wow-just-wow/#comments Tue, 09 Mar 2010 02:02:04 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1535 You ever go outside in the rain, and as much as you try to stay dry, you just end up wet? About the point where your underwear band starts to get damp, you stop caring about getting wet, and just embrace the rain. Well, the horror and destruction that has been my 2010 isn’t really ... Read more

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You ever go outside in the rain, and as much as you try to stay dry, you just end up wet? About the point where your underwear band starts to get damp, you stop caring about getting wet, and just embrace the rain. Well, the horror and destruction that has been my 2010 isn’t really something I want to embrace.

But I’m to the point I can laugh.

So I call that a win. Let’s recap, just for fun. I’m not whining, rather I’m just listing in awe the first few months of this beast:

  • I developed some serious migraine issues. Hospital. Butt shots. Yeah, still sorta have that, and it sucks.
  • My house burned down.
  • My house burned down. (Yeah I already listed it, but c’mon — my HOUSE BURNED DOWN)
  • Our pets all passed away in the fire.
  • I inhaled the smoke, and ended up with pneumonia.
  • The doctor and I failed to make contact regarding test results, so I never got antibiotics. I developed super pneumonia. Trust me, that’s not a super power.
  • Mid-super-pneumonia, I got the flu. I called it flumonia, which didn’t really make it better, but at least it was a funny word.
  • I really thought I was going to die with flumonia.
  • On a return trip from LA, my flight (the one following a red-eye) was canceled. I slept on the floor next to an old bag of Cheetos.
  • The computer we’ve been taking home inventory on decided the hard drive should quit working. It didn’t consult me first.
  • This past weekend, I ate sushi. I bought the sushi from a grocery store. I may not have looked at the date it was made on. I sorta got food poisoning.
  • And, right now, I’m beginning to get a headache.

2010: BITE ME. 🙂

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Four Tens https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/07/four-tens/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/07/four-tens/#comments Mon, 08 Mar 2010 01:27:23 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1529 Because 3 day weekends are amazing. And no one does anything really productive on Friday anyway. So c’mon world, why not adopt a 4 day work week? Also, I think the extra day should be Friday. Face it, the first day back from the weekend (regardless of duration) will stink. Monday already has that stink ... Read more

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Because 3 day weekends are amazing. And no one does anything really productive on Friday anyway. So c’mon world, why not adopt a 4 day work week?

Also, I think the extra day should be Friday. Face it, the first day back from the weekend (regardless of duration) will stink. Monday already has that stink about it, so let’s leave it alone. Think of all the good we’ll do…

  • If everyone stayed home from work on Friday, that would be a 20% reduction in carbon emissions for the workday commute. TWENTY PERCENT. Looking at it that way, it almost seems sinful to go to work 5 days a week.
  • With every weekend being a 3 day weekend, the regional tourist industry would be booming! Think about it, everyone could take a mini-vacation (walking of course, so as not to nullify bullet point the first), and we’d create jobs for workers in the tourist industry! (I’m looking at you, northern Michigan…)
  • Saturday would no longer be the only perfect day. See, now, Saturday is the only day you can both sleep in AND stay up late. With my Four Tens plan, Friday and Saturday could be perfect weekend days!
  • It’s the next logical progression to my ultimate plan… Three Twelves. 🙂

So, my fellow Earth dwellers — let’s take a stand. I say, save the planet! Four Tens for Two Thousand Twelve! (That will be my presidential slogan. Vote for Shawn!)

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A Question About T-Shirts https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/06/a-question-about-t-shirts/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/03/06/a-question-about-t-shirts/#comments Sat, 06 Mar 2010 22:52:58 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1525 Ok, maybe a couple questions about ’em… 1) Do you have “dress” t-shirts? By that I mean t-shirts you treat as more formal attire than you do the mountains of t-shirts we have for sleeping, painting, dog washing, etc. Personally I do. I have lots of t-shirts in a drawer, but I also have my ... Read more

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Ok, maybe a couple questions about ’em…

1) Do you have “dress” t-shirts?

By that I mean t-shirts you treat as more formal attire than you do the mountains of t-shirts we have for sleeping, painting, dog washing, etc. Personally I do. I have lots of t-shirts in a drawer, but I also have my “dress” t-shirts that get hung on hangers. For example, my vintage Green Lantern shirt gets a hanger, while the t-shirt from the local physical therapy place (which they handed out during a parade) gets folded and shoved in a drawer. That brings me to my next question:

2) Do you hang or fold t-shirts? Or both? Or neither?


3) Are you OK with a cotton/poly blend t-shirt, or are you only truly happy with 100% cotton?

For me, I’m only truly happy with 100% cotton — but if the shirt is awesome enough, I’ll wear a poly/cotton blend. I might put a cotton shirt under it though.

And lastly:

4) If you could wear a t-shirt to work every day, would you?

I totally would. I already wear my Converse All-Stars 7 days a week, if I could add blue jeans and t-shirts to the “every day” mix — I would do it in a heartbeat.

So that’s my question for your Saturday evening. Feel free to include a story about your favorite t-shirt. I haven’t had any long enough (post fire) to have a favorite, but I’m rather fond of my superhero shirts. Which reminds me… I still have to get one of those root superhero shirts. 🙂

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Brainhacker: Do Less Stuff https://brainofshawn.com/2010/02/26/brainhacker-do-less-stuff/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/02/26/brainhacker-do-less-stuff/#comments Fri, 26 Feb 2010 06:06:06 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1521 I love the lifehacker website, really I do. But I’m not a writer there, so when I feel particularly life-hackerish, I do it here. This is one of those times. One of the big problems with loving what you do, is that you tend to do too much. Really. Take me for instance, I have ... Read more

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I love the lifehacker website, really I do. But I’m not a writer there, so when I feel particularly life-hackerish, I do it here. This is one of those times.

One of the big problems with loving what you do, is that you tend to do too much. Really. Take me for instance, I have 3 jobs, all of which could easily be full time jobs. Sadly, I’m not doing a great job at any of them.

If you’re like me (God help you), and are a creative type person that loves what he does — you have more ideas than you have time to realize them. You probably also have more work than you can do, because you love the work you do, so you tend to take on too much. Take it from someone in the middle of such a scenario: DO MORE WITH LESS.

No, I’m not talking financially here, I’m talking time-wise. Do what you do, and do it REALLY well. Don’t cut corners so you can add a new project. Don’t over-commit because the new project is totally worthwhile. If the new project is that amazing, maybe replace something in your life with it rather than add to your existing schedule. Because here’s a secret: The new thing will replace something in your life. That “thing” it replaces may be the quality you produce in your current job. It may be sleep. It may be time with your family. Unfortunately, you won’t likely get to pick — it’ll just happen.

Really, you get to pick between doing a few things really well, or a bunch of things poorly. Perhaps on the next issue of Brainhacker, I’ll be able to tell you how to eliminate important things from your life. For now, I just urge you to stop before it’s too late.

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Hack Your Wii, Be Like Me https://brainofshawn.com/2010/02/16/hack-your-wii-be-like-me/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/02/16/hack-your-wii-be-like-me/#comments Tue, 16 Feb 2010 13:44:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1510 Thankfully, the former doesn’t guarantee the latter, or we’d have a lot of people with funny looking hairdos walking around the Internets. 🙂 Ok, this will likely be long, so I’ll bust it up into sections: Why Would I Hack My Wii? There are many reasons to hack your Wii. There are many reasons not ... Read more

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Thankfully, the former doesn’t guarantee the latter, or we’d have a lot of people with funny looking hairdos walking around the Internets. 🙂 Ok, this will likely be long, so I’ll bust it up into sections:


Why Would I Hack My Wii?

There are many reasons to hack your Wii. There are many reasons not to as well. Let’s talk about them first.

DON’T HACK YOUR WII IF:

  • You are afraid you might brick it. I’ve never bricked a Wii, but you never know. It could happen, and you might not be able to fix it. You could have a $200 boat anchor. (Or a Christmas gift for someone you don’t like.)
  • You are afraid people will think you’re a pirate. They will. Even if you’re not. (And, you probably will be — it’s VERY tempting.)
  • You are afraid of spending a few hours with a Wii, a TV, and a computer with an SD card reader. The process is long and complicated. There’s probably an easy way, but I don’t know it, and don’t think I’d trust it.
  • DON’T HACK YOUR WII IF you haven’t asked your spouse. Or kids. Or the owner of the Wii. That pretty much goes for any potentially destructive behavior, but you know, it goes for Wii hacking too.

DO HACK YOUR WII IF:

  • Your house recently burned down, and all the disks you bought are now forever ruined by flame, smoke, and heat. With a hacked Wii, you can get your games back without waiting the 6 months the insurance company will take to process your claim.
  • Ok, admittedly that is a rare circumstance, but dog gone it, a valid one. 🙂
  • You want to store your games on a hard drive, because DVDs are so 2004.
  • You want to play video DVDs in the Wii. Because really, what’s up with that Nintendo?
  • You want to play videos, movies, or show pictures on the TV over the network, or from local USB/SD drives. You know, like XBMC but not quite as cool.
  • You’d like to watch Netflix streaming videos on your television spending only $40 on the PlayOn software instead of $80 for a Roku.
  • You wanna be a dirty filthy pirate, and download games off the Internet, and play them without paying, thus robbing the makers of video games of their profits, and likely causing a cataclysmic breakdown of our economy. Again.
  • Or you can hack your Wii because you wanna be like me. Seriously though, if that’s your goal, just learn to do the eyebrow thing. It’s cheaper.

The Basic Steps

Remember when I said it was a long process? Yeah, it totally is. The frustrating thing is that links will die, information will get outdated, and versions will be changed by the time you attempt to do any hacking. So I’m going to be vague enough that you should be able to find the current stuff, and not depend on me for copy/paste instructions. You’re gonna learn darn it! But like G.I. Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle.” So, you know, there’s that to comfort you. Here are the basic steps, which I’ll elaborate on later.

  1. Do something awesome, which you’ll likely never understand, and overflow Wii buffers and stuff. Look, if you were smart enough to know how these things work, you wouldn’t be reading this blog entry. Just stand back and be awed like me. Basically, you have your Wii load a “bannerbomb”, which kinda crashes the system, and then starts whatever program you want afterwards. It’s super sweet.
  2. Remember that Wii we just bannerbombed? Yeah, we’re gonna then load a program that will load boot code onto the Wii itself, so that we don’t have to run the bannerbomb program every time we start up our console. Because really, the wow factor will wear off, and the hacker that came up with it deserves our awe.
  3. Then we’ll install the Homebrew Channel. Ok, to be honest, that program I talked about in step 2 will install the Homebrew Channel for us. Why you ask? Well, because the Homebrew Channel is the reason we hack a Wii in the first place. It’s where all the awesome programs live.
  4. Yay! We have the Homebrew Channel! Unfortunately, it’s just a blank screen with nothing inside. We’ll change that by adding cool programs. Unfortunately, those first couple “cool programs” will be cryptic, weird programs that make little sense. We’ll use terms like IOS249, and Trucha Bug Restorer. You will feel as though you’re in over your head. In fact, you may be. That’s OK though, it’s not as bad as it seems. Just close to as bad as it seems.
  5. We will likely celebrate now. Because really, that last step sucked.
  6. Now we load a few cool Homebrew programs onto the SD card. Did I mention an SD card before? Oh, well we’ll have an SD card. You’ll be swapping it back and forth a lot. By this point, it won’t even annoy you anymore.
  7. Depending on how much you want to quit, or how young your kids are, you might just start loading games onto your external USB drive now. Or, you might want to make shortcuts (or “forwarders”) to your homebrew programs right on the main screen of your Wii. All the cool kids are doing it, so you might as well too. It’s actually pretty easy.
  8. By this time, the Wii is pretty much hacked. You probably won’t want to touch it for a few days, because you’re friggen tired of the thing. Your friends and family will play with it like crazy though, and never truly appreciate how much work you put into it. Oh, and they’ll all ask you how you did it. Feel free just to point them here though. You don’t have to do it for them. Once you do all this work, you’ll say, “You’re going to learn darn it!” — again, just like me…

You Need Stuff, So Get It

You didn’t read any of that stuff did you? DID YOU? Go back and read it now. There is a secret password you’ll need to go any further. Come back here when you’re done.

Good, glad to see you back. Yeah, I totally lied about that secret password. I just wanted you to read the whole thing. Deal. 🙂 First you need to gather and prepare a few items:

  • An SD Card. I suggest it be 2GB, but anything 2GB or less is fine. I wouldn’t go below 512MB though, because you’re going to be keeping stuff on it. Maybe a lot of stuff. Oh, and make sure it’s formatted with a FAT filesystem. Not FAT32.
  • An SD Card reader for your computer. And hey, all you people thinking your 4GB SD card will be twice as good as a 2GB card? Yeah, you follow directions for crap. A 4GB card or bigger will give you lots of problems. Maybe. It’s not worth it man, just get a 2GB card. They’re super cheap.
  • Um, a Wii. Yes. You should have a Wii if you’re going to be hacking a Wii. Just sayin.

Over 1000 Words Later, We Begin

First, boot up your Wii and see what version the firmware is. Generally, you want to leave it alone. As a last resort, you may have to update the firmware to the most recent version, but keep in mind Nintendo does not want you to hack your Wii, and they work hard to keep it from working. Once you know your firmware version, you’ll know how to proceed. It’s super simple:

  1. Click the Wii options button.
  2. Click Wii Settings
  3. Look in the upper right hand corner of the screen. There it is.
  4. If that was confusing, someone made a video of what to do here. Go watch it, then come back.

Remember that number. Maybe write it down or something. Ok, the next step will be done on your computer. Grab your 2GB or smaller FAT formatted SD card, and put it into your card reader. Now head on over to http://bannerbomb.qoid.us/ and follow the appropriate link. You’ll end up downloading a zip file, extracting it to your SD card, and ending up with a folder called “private” on there, with stuff inside. That’s the magic, awesome thing I talked about earlier. That will basically load any program you put on the SD card named “boot.elf” — so lets put something useful on there, shall we?

There’s a really neat program called “HackMii” that installs 3 very useful things onto your Wii. It installs:

  1. BootMii, which yes, is a cheesy name, but it replaces the boot code on your Wii or something, and allows you to back up system bits, etc.
  2. DVDx — this allows your Wii to play video DVDs. Because really, why doesn’t it do that anyway?
  3. HBC — this is the “Homebrew Channel” I keep talking about, home of all things mystical and wonderful.

It will install these things directly off the Internet for you, so you’ll have the latest version. Pretty cool, eh? Go here to download it (as of this writing, it’s version 0.6 or something): http://bootmii.org/download.

So you download that program, unzip it, and copy the boot.elf file to the root (top) directory of your SD card. So you should have 2 things on that now, the folder called “private” (with stuff in it), and a file called “boot.elf” — if you do, you’re ready to actually hack. SWEET.


Hack It Like a Gibson!

If you thought that scene from Hackers was even remotely realistic, you’re not allowed on my blog anymore. Go away.

Good, you’re still here. Ok, basically you now follow the directions from the bannerbomb site to load the boot.elf file. The directions are slightly different depending on what version of firmware you have. It’s not hard. Go back and read the site. Basically you either go to “Data Management”, and “Channels”, and “SD Card” if you have a pre-4.2 firmware. Otherwise, if you have 4.2, you click on the SD card on the main Wii screen. There, I did the work for you.

You should get a message like “Do you want to load boot.dol?” and you say yes. Even if you would rather eat an ice cream sundae, you still click yes. Or load. Or continue. I don’t remember what the affirmation dialog is, but look, you got this far, you want to load the program. So just do it.

Now you’re going to do 3 things. You’re going to install BootMii, DVDx, and The Homebrew Channel. It’s pretty straightforward. Really. You just install them. If you don’t want to install BootMii, that’s fine. I’m pretty sure you can just install the Homebrew Channel and DVDx. The thing about BootMii is that it allows you to back up your NAND, and possibly unbrick your bricked Wii if you brick it. Not that you will. But you know, just in case. You can also use this method to uninstall these 3 programs if you get in trouble for messing with your sister’s Wii later on.

What? It’s too hard? You’re confused? Well, it turns out the folks over at LifeHacker love you more than I do, and they made a (slightly outdated but still useful) tutorial, and they even included pictures. It’s right here. You can go over there to get that part done if you like. If you don’t like pictures, or Lifehacker filed a restraining order against you, there’s a different article over on wikidot. It has fewer pictures, but it’s just as good. Then come back, because I have more goodies to teach you. Things Lifehacker doesn’t cover.


OK, My Wii is Hacked. Am I Cool Now?

I have no idea. If your self esteem and cool factor is based on the current state of your Wii — it’s likely you’re not cool, and no amount of hacking will help. But your Wii? Yeah, your Wii is pretty cool. Let’s make it awesometastic.

To be clear, you could install some homebrew apps now, and brag you have a hacked Wii. Because you do. The problem is, you have sort of a sucky hacked Wii. The biggest thing you need to do is install IOS249. What is IOS249 you ask? I have no friggen clue. I don’t really care either. It’s something you need in order to let your Wii access things like USB drives. (You might also need IOS222/223, but I’ll touch on that later)

One of the really pain in the butt things, is that Nintendo doesn’t want you to do things like this. So they make it really hard. Thankfully, people smarter than me have outlined it really well. Read the awesome article entitled, “IOS249 – How To Get Started, Even If You’re Really Dumb.” Told ya it was a good article… 🙂


This Is Starting To Suck, Are We Done Yet?

Almost. You might have noticed the link on the bottom of that last article that talked about a HERMES IOS222/223 thing. You probably want to install that too. Why? Well, because it will allow your Wii to read a wider variety of USB drives, and give you more possibilities when things don’t go right. And really, you want to get this over with, don’t you?

If you missed that link, it’s right here. Yes, you’re absolutely right, you didn’t need my blog entry at all. You could have just googled all this on your own. But you didn’t. What does that say about you? Well, based on how long I had to google to come up with the right directions, it says you’re smarter than me. Your punishment for being smarter is listening to me monologue like this. It could be worse, I could have made a video and made you listen to me sing.


OK, now you’re cool. Let’s play games and stuff.

By now, you probably understand that in order to install stuff in your Homebrew Channel, you make a folder inside the /apps folder on the SD card, and then put the program in there, and name it boot.dol. Let me suggest a few programs to get you going:

  • Homebrew Browser — This is a neat program that allows you to install, upgrade, and uninstall a wide variety of applications right from your Wii. No more moving the SD card over to your computer. Sadly, it doesn’t have every program, but it does have a lot.
  • Mplayer_CE — this is an awesome video player. It plays pretty much everything, including files on remote Windows or SMB shares. You’ll need to configure the config file on the SD card after installing if you want to play from network shares, but it’s pretty easy. It’s available in the Homebrew Browser, but as a warning — I had to use version .75, as the current version (as of this writing) is .76, and it wouldn’t load. You can download older version from their website if needed.
  • USB Loader GX — There are other USB loaders, but this is my favorite. It will download cover art for you, rip DVDs for you, and allow you to tweak stuff if games (Wii Sports Resort…) don’t work right.

See? That wasn’t bad. You have a totally hacked Wii. You are awesome. You can brag. BUT… If you want to be SUPER cool, you can install forwarders for a few of the programs you access often (like USB Loader GX).


Forwarders, For People That Are Too Cool To Click Homebrew First

This is another thing I don’t totally understand, but it’s not hard to use. Install the WAD Manager. Apparently “WADs” are the things that appear on the main Wii screen. I don’t know. I don’t really care. When you install the WAD Manager, you are able to install WAD files. Go figure. On that website for USB Loader GX, they have a forwarder WAD to download. You basically install it with the WAD Manager, and it magically appears on the main screen. TADA! It’s really simple. The big thing is finding the forwarder for the program you want to add to the main screen. (Forwarders come as WAD files… are you still with me?)

Here is a link to the USB Loader GX forwarder. Read that page. If you don’t understand the difference between installing a forwarder or installing a channel, don’t worry. I don’t either. Just install the forwarder, it works well.

Here is the info on the forwarder for Mplayer CE that I use. Unfortunately, I had to sign up for the forum in able to get access to the download links. That really ticked me off. If you want to use this forwarder, but don’t want to sign up — here is a direct link to the file. You’re welcome.


I Don’t Care If I’m Cool Anymore, Am I Done?

Yeah. That’s pretty much it. You’ll probably want to tweak the config file for Mplayer CE to point it to your windows shares for playing network videos. You might also want to install the Internet Channel on your Wii, and then install PlayOn on your Windows machine so you can watch Netflix streaming — but that doesn’t require any hacking, it’s just pretty cool. You probably also want to download a WBFS program so you can manage games you illegally downloaded and put them on your external USB drive so you can load them with USB Loader GX. And if you’re not a pirate, you probably want to attach an empty USB drive so you can rip your legally owned games onto your hard drive. USB Loader GX does that for you, and it’s pretty sweet.

If you have any questions, just leave a comment. I’ll try to answer. Really though, I’ll probably just make you google your questions — because that’s all I’ll do. I’m not really that smart, I just have good googling skills. You should too. This is 2010 man, you should be able to search on the Internet. And now? GO PLAY A GAME! 😀

NOTE: There are probably typos that I’ll fix later. I have to go to work, and y’all wanted me to post this, so consider this post a Release Candidate. Also, standard disclaimer about ruining your Wii, your life, etc. I’m not responsible. I think you should sell your Wii and become Amish. That’s my recommendation.

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What Should Be In The High School Library SciFi Section? https://brainofshawn.com/2010/02/15/what-should-be-in-the-high-school-library-scifi-section/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/02/15/what-should-be-in-the-high-school-library-scifi-section/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2010 15:35:47 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1503 As many of you know, my wonderful wife works in the high school library. Even if you didn’t know that, it’s still true. Seriously though, one of the areas the library is severely lacking in is the science fiction department. Really, it’s slim pickings. So here is my request: Please leave in the comments what ... Read more

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As many of you know, my wonderful wife works in the high school library. Even if you didn’t know that, it’s still true. Seriously though, one of the areas the library is severely lacking in is the science fiction department. Really, it’s slim pickings. So here is my request: Please leave in the comments what books you think should be in a high school library’s science fiction section. If all the recommendations come from me, it will basically just be full of my favorites. While that would suit me just fine, the thought of growing similar minded geeks is a bit unsettling. Please keep in mind:

  • Our community is pretty conservative, so graphic alien on alien action is likely a deal breaker.
  • Please don’t recommend a book that is in the middle of a series. Recommend the whole series. Seriously, my OCD can’t handle that nonsense. 🙂
  • Newer authors are encouraged. The classics are certainly not to be left out, but really — we want to introduce kids to new authors as well.
  • I think that’s it!

So please, leave your thoughts in the comments. Also, if you know anyone that would have an opinion on the issue, please pass a link along. I’m really hoping to get a good list together for her. Thank you!

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Curing Writer’s Laryngitis https://brainofshawn.com/2010/01/31/curing-writers-laryngitis/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/01/31/curing-writers-laryngitis/#comments Sun, 31 Jan 2010 15:14:17 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1486 One of the really neat things about writing is when you “find your voice.” A voice is a rather elusive thing, in that the darn thing hides right in front of you. It will also hide in technical nuances too. Lemme give you an example from the past few years of my life. * I’ve ... Read more

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One of the really neat things about writing is when you “find your voice.” A voice is a rather elusive thing, in that the darn thing hides right in front of you. It will also hide in technical nuances too. Lemme give you an example from the past few years of my life.

* I’ve had this notion that I couldn’t write fiction. It seemed somehow “different” than writing non-fiction or journalism stuff. See, with fiction you need a plot, a storyline, characters, climaxes (that word still makes me giggle, sorry), and resolutions. It’s so easy to worry about telling a good story that you never end up telling a story at all. Here’s the skinny: If you tell a good story, it has all those things. Yes, you can tweak, improve, modify, learn — but really, if you just tell a story, the elements fall into place. Because that’s what a good story is. 🙂

* I spent all of NaNoWriMo 2008 fumbling over point of view. Really. It’s sad. I never got to telling a story because I was worried about who was telling the story, what they knew, what parts of speech they used, and if the reader was omniscient or not. See? Insanity.

* Everyone says it, but I’ll reiterate. Because it’s good advice: JUST WRITE. It’s OK to suck. Vacuums do. Black holes do. Tornadoes do. Heck, even mosquitoes do a little bit. The point is, just write. Take this blog post: It’s not great. But hey, that’s not stopping me from clicking publish. MWaahahahahahhaaaa.

My point is, find your voice. Your voice is what makes you distinct. Wanna be a writer? Write. Now. 🙂

Cat photo by dolorix

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Live Long and Prosper, Nanu Nanu https://brainofshawn.com/2010/01/26/live-long-and-prosper-nanu-nanu/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/01/26/live-long-and-prosper-nanu-nanu/#comments Tue, 26 Jan 2010 18:42:49 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1488 Tired of my blog being all about doom, gloom, and fire? Me too. (Oh, I’ll keep you updated on that too, no worries) Here’s something that has been bothering me…

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Tired of my blog being all about doom, gloom, and fire? Me too. (Oh, I’ll keep you updated on that too, no worries) Here’s something that has been bothering me…

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It’s Already Old News… https://brainofshawn.com/2010/01/24/its-already-old-news/ https://brainofshawn.com/2010/01/24/its-already-old-news/#comments Sun, 24 Jan 2010 20:26:23 +0000 https://www.brainofshawn.com/?p=1469 And yet we’ve just begun the process. The world has gone forward, us included, yet it amazes me how tumultuous our lives remain. My family appreciates everyone’s continued thoughts and prayers. Donna went to the house for the first time since the fire yesterday, and it was really hard on her. I think if the ... Read more

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And yet we’ve just begun the process. The world has gone forward, us included, yet it amazes me how tumultuous our lives remain. My family appreciates everyone’s continued thoughts and prayers. Donna went to the house for the first time since the fire yesterday, and it was really hard on her. I think if the home were completely burned, it would be easier to deal with — but it’s not. One room is completely destroyed, but the rest of the house is just blackened, twisted, and ominous. I mentioned last week on Twitter that our house seemed like a version in an alternate universe, where things were dark, desolate, and destroyed. It’s quite unpleasant to visit. I took a few pictures, but most don’t turn out well because everything is black and there is only the light filtered in through smoke and heat damaged windows.


This was the first thing we saw when the door was opened. Our new washer and dryer, completely white, were blackened and filthy looking.



For a contrast on how the house used to be, I moved a rug that was sitting on the kitchen floor. The white is the color everything used to be — now it’s all pitch black. It’s baked into every surface, and can’t be scraped away.