Audio Books

When I was younger I’d devour a few books in a month but these days I’m lucky if I struggle through one every 6 weeks. Between work, being a dad and millions of other distractions I find myself trying to consciously book in time to read. Just tonight I scheduled some time to finally finish off a graphic novel I’d picked up a couple of months ago. I’d made it half way through, put it down then forgotten about it. That’s not a reflection on the book, though. I enjoyed it. The ending was a little rushed but it was good. No, the reason it was forgotten about is that I’ve been distracted from reading by reading. I just want to read too many things. Books, both non-fiction and fiction, essays and comics. Recently I’ve been reading fiction at work on lunch or coffee breaks and setting aside time for comics when I get home. It’s been working so far but I’ve also found another trick to getting more entertainment into my brain in the form of audio books. I’d never really bothered with them before but I recently listened to one or two and have found them to be a terrific way of passing the time when I’m doing household chores if I don’t have a podcast to listen to.

I’ve heard some people knock audio books for not being like “real books” but if you get the unabridged version and you pay attention to the story, provided it has a good narrator, than I don’t see the problem. If you’re going to argue that someone hasn’t fully appreciated a story because they’re having it read to them then I’ll be sure to pass on your opinion to the next blind person I meet. When you think about it humans began telling stories by speaking them out loud to one another before the invention of the written word. I’ve also found myself retaining things much better when listening vs reading and in a very strange way too. I’ll be passing by a place that I was once walking while listening to a podcast or book and I’ll remember the part of the show or the scene in the book that I was listening to at the time.

If you haven’t tried audio books then I highly recommend them. Ask about them when next at your local library.

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Moved back to Tumblr

After running my blog from my Raspberry Pi using Ghost, I’ve decided to switch to Tumblr. I’ve done this for a couple of reasons:
1. Tumblr has way better mobile support for posting from mobile/tablet via the app
2. Upgrading Ghost is a pain in the ass!
3. I can get Tumblr to look and feel pretty much exactly like my Ghost blog which I loved the look of
Will I actually blog more? Doubtful, but I’m still tinkering every so often and this latest development has the blog in the forefront of my mind.

To Be

When I was about 10 or 11 I stumbled upon a short animation on TV one evening that had a huge impact on me. It was one of the first times I considered that stories, especially sci-fi stories could make people really think about a whole range of different ideas and that the science fiction was just a backdrop to presenting these ideas. I never saw that short movie ever again. Every few years when I thought back to it I’d run a Google search but come up dry. Just recently I found it! Here it is and I highly recommend watching if you have 10 minutes to spare.

Company Culture

I’m not sure who originally authored this but it’s pretty fantastic and so true:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. Inside the cage, hang a banana on a string and place a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the other monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result - all the other monkeys are sprayed with cold water. Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it.

Now, put away the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his surprise and horror, all of the other monkeys attack him.
After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.

Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a New one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous Newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm! Likewise, replace a third original monkey with a new one, then a fourth, then the fifth.
Every time the newest monkey takes to the stairs, he is attacked. Most Of the monkeys that are beating him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.

After replacing all the original monkeys, none of the remaining monkeys Have ever been sprayed with cold water. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs to try for the banana.

Why not? Because as far as they know, that’s the way it’s always been done around here. And that, my friends, is how a company culture begins.

CloudAtCost Review - How Not To Do Customer Service

The following is my review of CloudAtCost’s services and customer support, or lack thereof.

First things first. I rarely complain to any company and when I do I don’t usually make a big deal of it. However, when it comes to CloudAtCost I want to make sure that as many people as possible see this post and avoid these guys like the plague.

The story begins late 2013 when a friend informed me that a new hosting company was offering lifetime deals on cloud hosting your own VPS. To be honest that should have been my first warning right there. I went ahead and got one of the lower tier $12 a year servers. It seemed like a steal. A server with 512MB RAM, 1 CPU, 10GB SSD, 500GB Monthly Transfer, 10MBit Network. I promptly got one and setup a Minecraft Pocket Edition server. It all went extremely well. It went so well in fact that I decided I’d shell out $70 and get the lifetime deal on the next size up server - 2 Xeon vCPU, 1 public IP, 1GB ECC RAM, 20GB SSD, 100 Mbit Network, 1TB monthly transfer.

I had some Wordpress sites I was maintaining for some friends so I installed ISPConfig and transfered the sites over from a free to host site I was hosting them on. The free host is Servers-Free and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for somewhere free and reliable to host a site. No command line access but as a website host they do the job and do it better than some paid services. Back to CloudAtCost, I had now setup a nifty little server, configured it the way I wanted and I was having fun trying out new things with it and playing with different services I wanted to test out. That’s when the problems started. A couple of weeks after I purchased the $70 server I awoke one morning to some emails from my uptime monitor informing me that my websites were down. After failing to connect via SSH on my home PC, I logged into the panel at CloudAtCost’s site and tried to get a console. No luck. I tried rebooting my server. No luck. I logged a support incident with CloudAtCost and waited…and waited…and waited. No confirmation, no response at all for the rest of the day, or the next. My server came up occasionally but not for long. It was at that point I transferred the sites back to Servers-Free server. About a week later I got a response back from CloudAtCost saying they were experiencing some difficulties and normal service would be resumed. Putting this down to teething issues with a new hosting company I plodded on. I moved my sites back and put it behind me. Unfortunately this kind of downtime became more common place in the weeks to follow. In the past when I’ve had an issue with a company I’ve run a quick search for @replies to that company on Twitter. A quick search for @cloudatcost revealed that I wasn’t the only one having these issues. What baffled me then and still baffles me to this day is CloudAtCost’s failure to acknowledge these issues and address them publically. It would only take someone there a few seconds to tweet out a message to customers. Upfront honesty about difficulties would be a lot better than what they have now - a sea of pissed off customers hurling abuse at them on a populer social network. 

This is a company that, not only doesn’t respond to its customers, but the ‘Live Chat’ chat window serves only to inform the frustrated user of deals to be had from them. I’ve tried Live Chat twice now when there are ‘Agents Available’ and both times I get offers for deals and no word from a Support Rep. It’s like they are actually laughing at me while my server is down. My current downtime is almost 2 weeks now and CloudAtCost have done nothing to resolve the issue. I’ve logged 2 tickets and I also see them getting the shit beat out of them from angry customers on Twitter and Facebook. They can’t control the Twitter replies but they seem to have enough time on their hands to delete the Facebook comments. I’ve paid $82 for services that are, at this point, non-existant. I even called their parent company, Fibernetics recently and didn’t get much from the individual there. His advice? File a ticket. I told him I was sick of filing tickets that don’t get addressed. His only reply was that it’s a developer server and not production. You don’t get to take people’s money in return for shitty service just because you’re offering a developer server. My advice to anyone is not to buy any services from this company. I suspect they won’t be around much longer. From what I see online it appears I’m not alone in this opinion. CloudAtCost are a joke and I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole thing was just a money grab.

Heartbleed - My Advice

Since the news regarding Heartbleed I’ve been asked for advice from different people.

Background: Heartbleed is a flaw in the SSL encryption used by any website that uses OpenSSL. Traffic between your PC and a secure site is encrypted but this security flaw allows an attacker access to small pieces of that traffic. Very small. The most recent news is that it’s highly unlikely an attacker could scoop any valuable data but nevertheless users should exercise caution.

Advice: In most of these situations the advice would be “Change your password!” In this case it’s “Change your passwords to some sites!” However, the real advice should be “Change your passwords to some sites…but not right away!” The reason for this is that some sites might not have got their shit together yet and fixed the issue on their server. For an updated list check out this page where you can check if any of the sites you use are vulnerable.

Conclusion: In today’s internet age this kind of thing is going to happen more and more. My best advice that I always give to people is this: 
- Choose strong passwords - Don’t use them in more than one place

I use Lastpass. If you held a gun to my head and asked for my Amazon password I couldn’t tell you. It’s something crazy like tG8Hjk92b or something. Lastpass has it stored for me along with all the other unique passwords for every other site I visit, although I’ve memorised my Google one. I highly recommend using unique passwords. If some shitty little unsecure site you use that isn’t very important to you gets hacked then it’s no big deal if you only use that password at that site. What if that’s the same password you use for Paypal, Google, your bank…With unique passwords you’re safe at all your other sites if only one gets hacked.

Also you may want to check out 2 Factor Authentication. It’s a system where you login to a site using your user name, password and a code that you have on your phone that changes every 30 seconds or so. That way even if someone has your username and password it’s useless without your phone. Ask me more about it if you’re interested or you need help setting it up.

Stay safe, kids. 

What I’m Watching

Having cut the cord a few years back I’ve not really been keeping up on the latest TV shows. I’ve caught the likes of Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones but I wouldn’t have a clue what’s new on most of the big networks. This is also due to the fact that I found most new shows on network TV to be the same recycled garbage. Until it was pulled, I was binge watching Arrow but now that it’s off Netflix I’ve been looking for other things to devour. Buffy the Vampire Slayer continues to be my go to “I’m bored and don’t know what to watch” show. I’m on season 2 right now and I’m ok with it being a slow burn.

Recently I’ve rediscovered the delights of animated shows. I watch Adventure Time with my daughter quite a bit and last year I fell completely in love with Cowboy Bebop. That discovery led me to other Anime such as Attack on Titan and, more recently, Space Dandy. I’m really quite impressed with these anime shows and I’ve started to more than dip my toe into the genre. There’s quite the divide on subs vs dubs. For me I go with whatever I please at the time. Cowboy Bebop was awesome with dubbed English voices and, when comparing it to the subs I found the dubs to be much richer in content. I’ve stuck to dubs for Space Dandy, too.

Another show that I have really invested my time in is Avatar: The Last Airbender. This one is knock your socks off amazing. I found out about it from hearing about Legend Of Korra. I was all set to watch Korra then I learned it was a sequel show to Airbender. If you’ve not watched Airbender I encourage you to do so. It’s debatable whether or not it’s Anime but it hits all the right notes for me. A great cast of characters, fantastic world building, awesome stories and overall series arc. I’ve binge watched it all and have cleared the last season in just the past couple of days. I’ll actually be sad when it’s over. I know I’ll have Korra to dive into but I really will miss these characters the same way I missed Cowboy Bebop when I was done that show. Airbender has a great line up of characters who get added to the show with each season and it’s as much a show about all of them individually as it is about the titular Avatar and his own struggles. 
Like a lot of cartoons, it’s mainly based at a younger audience but, again like a lot of cartoons, it can definitely be appreciated but an older crowd. 

“'There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.' - G.K. Chesterton”

The Value of Content

Back in the heyday of Napster and other P2P clients and right around the time when Bitorrent started to become a thing I was one to speak highly of illegally downloading albums. My main reason was not the rather compelling cost of $0 but rather that it was far easier to walk into my office, set a download going, wait a few minutes then copy it to my MP3 player than it was to get in my car, drive to the store, dig around and try find the album I want, stand in line, pay then drive home. Nowadays for music it’s much easier to just pay a few cents and download than to go hunting around on pirate sites. 
I used to have a similar convenience argument for TV and movies. In recent years I’ve cut the cord and mainly use Netflix, YouTube and other online resources to get my TV and movie fixes. Paying my $8 a month for Netflix has had the effect of getting me much more used to paying for content. When I started reading comics a couple of years ago I ‘sampled’ a couple here and there via Bitorrent but now I have a couple of print subs at the comic store and some paid digital subs via Comixology. I actually much prefer to pay for quality content and the convenience of having it delivered to me rather than me go and hunt it down using questionable methods. For books and comics it has a rather nice side effect that I put more thought into what I’m going to consume if there’s a dollar value attached to it. Also, I do like the idea of supporting creators, especially up and coming, independent writers/artists who are not earning nearly as much as they should be in pursuit of their dreams. 
I am by far in the minority in my house when it comes to TV Consumption. The only current TV show I watch on a regular basis is Space Dandy along with my slow but steady progress in catching up on every episode of Buffy via Netflix. For me my main entertainment is in the form of podcasts. 2 favourites of mine have recently relaunched themselves and, so far, they’re both being supported with no ads. These 2 shows are Daily Tech News Show and Cord Killers. The audience are invited to download free of charge but can also support each show for a little as a few pennies per month. Supporting these shows comes with benefits for the paying listeners (name in the credits, access to material first, etc.) More than that though I have to say that, as a paying listener, I do feel good about supporting a show that up until now I’ve taken for granted value-wise. They may end up doing ads and that’s just fine but it’s good to know that the chances of either show going off air are reduced slightly by my contribution. It’s Cord Killers, formally known as Frame Rate, that really encouraged my cord cutting so in a way they’ve saved me more money than I pay them annually anyway. It’s good to give something back. 
If you like Tech news then I highly recommend DTNS and Cord Killers is afantastic choice for all the latest from the Cord Cutting world. If you enjoy the shows then I would ask you to consider supporting them via Patreon.Here for DTNS and here for Cord Killers.

Essay Competition

A friend made me aware of an Essay Competition being held by CBC. There’s not much time before the deadline but it’s really got me thinking about throwing in a submission. I don’t think I’ll go ahead unless I have a topic I feel confident writing about and I don’t want to cobble something together just for the sake of it. Either way it’s got me thinking more and more about writing. The first draft of my novel is almost done but I think I’d like to focus on shorter works in future and maybe group them together in a free ebook. 
Also, trying out creative non-fiction won’t hurt. It may introduce me to a style/genre I feel comfortable writing. I’ll throw out some updates here if anything comes of it.