Your Smartphone or Your Life

Everyone: please be safe on the road. Whatever you need to read or look at on a phone can wait. It’s not worth dying for.
A few things I’ve seen in the last 24 hours:
A young man riding a bike and reading a piece of paper, with no hands on the handlebars. He was so focused on the paper that he wasn’t looking at the road at all, ran a stop sign, and turned directly into oncoming traffic, where he nearly got hit by a car. He never looked up, even when the car swerved around him, but just kept riding down the wrong side of the road.
A guy driving a car, using both hands to hold a book instead of the wheel, and looking down at the book in his lap, all while driving at full speed down one of the busiest streets in Houston during rush hour.
Multiple people running stop signs in my neighborhood at full speed, while all around children were walking to and from school.
A lady driving down one of those same neighborhood streets, holding her phone directly in front of her face… with small children in the back seat.
A story about a young lady who tried to “go live” on a streaming video service while driving. It cost her life and the lives of everyone else in her car.
Please drive when you’re driving. Read, text, tweet, “go live,” or play games later. Whatever else is going on in your life, it’s not so important that you need to jeopardize your life or the lives of your children and neighbors.

Free Website Security Certificates (a/k/a Free SSL Certificates)

If you have a website, you almost certainly need to secure it. Even for a simple WordPress blog like this one, security is a real problem; sites get hacked all the time, and even a site like this one can draw hundreds or thousands of hack attempts per day. Sometimes, it’s because hackers discover a new vulnerability. Usually, it’s an old one that just hasn’t been patched yet. But there’s more: hackers can steal your login info and take over your site just by monitoring your traffic over a wireless network, like in a typical coffee shop or airport.

The solution for this is to get a security certificate (commonly, but no longer correctly, known as an SSL certificate). Typically, these cost $100/year or more, depending on what you need. But there’s good news.

The free option for today is, which will give you a very basic certificate for free. It still requires some technical know-how, but not much; whoever handles your website maintenance now should be able to handle it pretty easily.

It’s about to get a lot easier. In mid-2015, Let’s Encrypt is launching. Let’s Encrypt is a project of the Internet Security Research Group, which consists of some real heavy-hitters in the tech world: Mozilla, Akamai, Cisco, the EFF, and IdenTrust. It will allow you do secure a website with, basically, one click. For free.

So, cost is no longer a barrier to securing your website. Go do it!

Ridiculous Mountaintop Plane Landing

I’m posting this just because it’s amazing.  Land it like a boss.

h/t That Reminds Me: Didja Hear About The Mountain-Climbing Economists? | The Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys.

Loneliest Human

The xkcd “What if?” blog has a great analysis of the people most eligible for the title of Loneliest Human.  Not that I ever thought I had even come close, but it makes my whole “6 miles from the nearest light bulb” (at Philmont Scout Ranch) thing seem way less impressive.

GTD: Your 6 Most Important Things

I recently read a blog post by Natalie Peace, entitled Your 6 Most Important Things. For those of you not familiar with her, Natalie is a serial entrepreneur, hailing from Canada. As is usually the case with her writing, this blog post was straightforward, to the point, and reminds the reader of something he or she probably knows, but has forgotten. At least, that was true for me with respect to this particular post.

The point of the post is to make a list every day of the six things that you will get done that day. Things that you will accomplish if humanly possible, but which are not automatic, like brushing your teeth. I make myself lists like this all the time at work—I always have a lengthy to-do list going, which I update as my workload evolves or priorities change. That list usually has far more than 6 entries—sometimes, it has dozens and includes sub-bullets!

But for some reason, I was not applying the same method to the ever-growing list of things I want to accomplish outside of my job. After reading Natalie’s post, I started making a list each morning, following her suggestion and using 6 items. It immediately made a difference in my ability to focus. Rather than wasting “just another couple of minutes” on various blogs or whatever was distracting me, I found it easy to get back into productive mode.

An obvious tip, perhaps, but a useful one, so I thought I would share it with y’all.

P.S. If you find this information useful, I highly recommend following Natalie’s blog or following her on Twitter at @Natalie_Peace.

Win Some, Lose Some

Today’s win: successfully replacing the laser in a broken Wii console, without wiping the saved data or shorting anything out. Thank you, Console Zombie!

Today’s loss: finding out that Momentum MINI in Houston put much cheaper tires on my car two weeks ago than the ones that I came in with, even though they didn’t mention that fact either before or after, and it cost me as much as it would have for the good ones. I then found out that they also just happened to leave $1,700 off of the estimate for the additional work I needed, even though all of the parts and labor involved were listed. Of course, the guy I was dealing with insisted that we had discussed all of these things and that they only reason he didn’t include all of the prices previously was that I told him to hold off on giving me the full quote for some reason. I don’t really enjoy being lied to or paying unreasonable amounts for routine maintenance, so I made him give me back my key so that I could go get a quote that is on this side of the sanity spectrum.

Jamaica and the Amazing Airtight Humidor

We just got back from Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and it was awesome. Last week was our first real vacation (“real,” as in longer than a three-day weekend and not a holiday visit with family – a true getaway) since 2008. It was way overdue, and well worth it.

One weird finale to the trip: my travel humidor vacuum-sealed itself on the flight back. The air pressure in the plane’s cargo hold got low enough that the travel humidor’s lid was sealed so tight after we landed that I couldn’t get it open. (I did eventually get it open, but only after wedging the file attachment on a pair of nail clippers between the base and lid and using it as a lever. Even then, it took about five seconds of hissing for the interior and exterior air pressures to equalize.)

Anyway, now it’s back to the grind tomorrow.


I’m writing this on my treadmill! We bought a SurfShelf Treadmill Desk for those times when we want to work out but need to work or have something else to do on the computer. Pretty sweet.

How Not to Set Up a Patio Set

Last weekend’s big project was for me to set up our patio furniture. Newly arrived – we ordered it online – it sat on the back porch for only about 12 hours; I really wanted to get to it. So, I went outside, cut open the table box with a utility knife, started removing the table… and promptly exploded the glass table top into roughly 180,000 pieces. It was a tempered glass top, and just barely brushed the box and ground on its way out of the box. So, I was left holding an empty table frame and a sackful of glass. Good times.

I went and bought a new set – we were able to get a near-total refund (no shipping) on the old one – which reminded me of two important life lessons:

1) If you want something done right (like tying a table to the top of the car), you’d better do it yourself.
2) I need a pickup truck (eliminating the relevance of #1 to this scenario).

Of course, the simplest lesson of all here: do not detonate your patio set.

Epic Mail Merge Fail

I received a mass-mailed (via U.S. Mail) invitation to purchase window blinds – lots of them – today. The recipient on the label was:

Cottrell Edward Michael Etal Cottrell
Edward Michael Etal