Dear Siri, I have no confidence in you

I’ve tried to use Siri more and use it for common tasks but every time I feel like I get burned. Today is a prime example. I had my phone on my desk and AirPods in. When I went to get a cup of coffee I decided I wanted to listen to some different music.

Hey Siri, play 80’s music…

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Really?! You couldn’t find any music from the 80’s? Jack McDade would weep.

I thought okay. I’ll try something else. How about, “Play some Drake”…

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My phone was not on me at the time, it was sitting in my office so I couldn’t “open music”, but if I’m driving isn’t the whole point not to be looking at your phone?

I guess I’m expecting too much out of Siri but I feel like this small common tasks should be easy things for it to handle. Or maybe I’m just doing it wrong.

 

My Workspace

It seems like sharing your workspace is all the rage this week and since everyone else is doing it, I figured I will too. Before I get into sharing my space I should prefix mine with a note that I change my home office a lot. I’d estimate every 90 days or so, I rearrange it somehow just to freshen it up and make me feel like I have a new place.

Workspace

 

I’ve been trying to put a focus on more analog tools so I’ve moved the computer off to the side to have more room for reading and writing. It’s been working pretty well and I have a typical office chair that spins so it’s easy to move my body toward the computer as I’m working.

The rest of my office features an IKEA bookshelf and hutch under the windows, then a comfy chair for reading or relaxing.

 

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It’s all pretty minimal but that is how I like it and try to keep it free from clutter.

Desk

My desk is an IKEA VÄSTANBY table and it has plenty of room. On the desk, I have an iMac on the left, a few books that I’m reading or want for quick reference, an awesome pencil holder made by my friend Jesse Schutt, a Midori travelers notebook, and Rhodia grid notebook. Above the desk is two paintings by Ninjagrl.

Computer

The computer on the desk is an iMac (Retina 5K, 27-inch, Late 2014) with a 4 GHz Intel Core i7 and 16 GB memory. It’s plenty for what I do and I’ve not hit the limits.  My secondary computer that isn’t shown is a 12″ Macbook and I honestly love developing on it. Something about having that small screen and only being able to focus on one thing at a time is freeing.

Music

I just went all in on Apple Music (follow me @ericlbarnes) because the family just liked its integration into Apple products and I’m still trying to get used to it.  I have a very weird music taste and you never know what I’m going to listen too.  Lately, though I’ve been doing a lot of classical and jazz. Loving some Charlie Parker.

I typically just try to find playlists for focus music and just have it repeat all day. When the kids get home from school I’ll throw my headphones in so I’m disturbed by their loudness.

Mac Apps

I’ve been trying to stick with only a few core Mac Apps and these are the main ones I use now:

Editor Setup

I’m using Dracula for PhpStorm and the Operator Mono font.

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VS Code is set up basically the same and I switch between each depending on the task at hand. On my MacBook, I also use VS Code but I prefer a light IDE theme.

This about covers my home entire home office space. If I missed anything or if you want to ask me about anything sound off below in the comments.

Book Review: How to Fight a Hydra

How to Fight a Hydra by Josh Kaufman is a book for artists, creative professionals, and entrepreneurs with advice given through a story of a warrior learning to face their fears, learning from mistakes, and persisting through a fight with a Hydra, a mythical serpent with nine heads.

I bought this book based on a recommendation and didn’t really research what it was about before I started reading. In the beginning, I started to think about Don Quixote and his adventures but it quickly turned into the meat of the story and I love the whole premise of the metaphor of doing battle against a giant beast because it honestly does feel that way when you are creating things.

The book itself is an easy read and I finished it in one sitting. It is 100 pages, but the book is 4×6 inches so it’s small. Here is a picture of it beside another typical business book.

In the end, this story reminded me so much of all the decisions I’ve made related to creating software, launching products, and of course taking the leap into the unknown.

Overall I enjoyed How to Fight a Hydra and would recommend it. The premise is a fun idea and the story keeps you engaged.

DIY: Field Notes Cover

Field Notes are great little notebooks. You can throw them in your pocket keep, them in your car, the opportunities are limitless.

Sometimes you just want the usefulness of them but in a different cover and here is a quick way of using a 12 pack box to accomplish that and make your own little travelers notebook style.

Requirements

  • Cardboard from a 12 Pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon
  • Scissors
  • Field Notes Notebook
  • 2 Rubber Bands
  • Mustache (not required)

Step 1. Cut off all the sides of the 12 pack.

Step 2. Lay the field notes notebook on top and measure about 1/4 inch longer. Then cut it out.

Step 3. Lay the notebook inside, find the center where the staples are and use a rubber band to hold it together.

Step 4. Fold it in half and then place another rubber band vertical to hold it closed.

That’s it. Now you have a custom Travelers Notebook style Field Notes cover made from a 12 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Here is the photo gallery of the finished product:

FAQ

  • Why did you do this?
    I had a box to dispose of and thought to myself, surely we could make something with it.
  • Does this have a real use case?
    Meh, probably not.
  • Why didn’t you use {otherbeer}?
    Because this is the box I had.
  • This is a dumb idea
    Well, that’s not really a question so your opinion is invalid.
  • Seriously, why did you do this?
    Because I can, but the bigger question is why are you even still reading this?

The Local Paper

A staple at my grandparent’s house was the daily paper. I have great memories of grandma and grandpa sitting on the coach sharing the different sections and pointing out to each other what they found interesting.

Back then the internet wasn’t really a thing, cell phones didn’t exist, and looking back it felt like a much simpler time. Now everyone gets the news through notifications, social media, and friends. And they get it instantly.

This method has some downsides and the biggest is that it’s easy to stoke your outrage over something and then share your opinions furthering the outrage. It’s a vicious cycle.

A few weeks ago I decided to subscribe to the local paper. It was pretty inexpensive compared to the big national newspapers and my kids are loving the funny papers. There is something nostalgic about holding a real paper, not worrying about all the ads tracking you, having instant page loads, and just enjoying the simplicity of paper.

More importantly what I’ve noticed is you read everything the day after. It feels calmer and if you are honest that is the way it should be. Instant news is great in an emergency but for everything else, it’s not something you can directly control or act on so it should be passive.

Just Ask

Today my friend Mohamed Said wrote on his blog about putting fear aside and reaching out to people, and he included the following video from Steve Jobs:

As I watched this what really stuck out to me is how Steve asked. In his example, he called Bill Hewlett and asked for a very specific thing, frequency counters, which made it easy for Bill to say yes and got him a foot in the door for a summer job.

I know many people that are crazy busy but if you reach out and asked something specific they would love to help you. Even if it’s a programming problem, as long as it’s not something vague like, “I get a white screen can you help?”.  Or something generic like can we schedule a phone call or grab a coffee. I archive those emails immediately, but if you said want to meet up and go mountain biking, I’d be all over that and happily drive across the state.

Be specific, respect their time, and you might just make a new lifelong friend.

To Kill a Mockingbird voted best-loved​ novel

PBS released the results of their Great American Read survey and To Kill a Mockingbird was voted by viewers as America’s #1 best-loved novel.

A gripping, heart-wrenching, and wholly remarkable tale of coming-of-age in a South poisoned by virulent prejudice, it views a world of great beauty and savage inequities through the eyes of a young girl, as her father – a crusading local lawyer – risks everything to defend a black man unjustly accused of a terrible crime.

I had always heard about this novel but never read it, two years ago I got the Audible version and listened to it and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I’m not sure how the rest of the country sees it, but I was born and raised in the south, and my grandfather was a local judge so I could easily put myself into the shoes of the main character Scout.

If you’ve not read it I’d recommend it. Then after you’ve done that, find the movie version on Netflix and watch it.

The top ten novels in their results are as follows:

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird
  2. Outlander (Series)
  3. Harry Potter (Series)
  4. Pride and Prejudice
  5. Lord of the Rings
  6. Gone with the Wind
  7. Charlotte’s Web
  8. Little Women
  9. Chronicles of Narnia
  10. Jane Eyre

Visit PBS for the complete top 100 list. Lots of great books on it.

SEO is still king

I’m not huge on looking on stats but about once a month I try to go through some and see where traffic is coming from, what posts are popular and attempt to get a general feel on what’s resonating with people.

While looking today I looked at referrers for the past 90 days and was blown away how much was still from search. Here is a pie chart showing the breakdown.

 

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Referrers for 90 Days

 

  • 76% is search
  • 9% is WordPress Android (not sure what this is)
  • 6% Twitter
  • 4% Facebook
  • 4% Linkedin

These stats are all from a site that has almost 50,000 Twitter followers, 27,000 Facebook, and 16,000 Linkedin.

I find it interesting because so often when you work hours on a post and then it doesn’t get any traction on social media, you feel demoralized. Just remember social traffic is only getting a portion of your followers and it’s always fleeting. Keep your head down and keep working.

Early voting

It’s election season again, time to do our civic duty and vote for politicians that will work for us and carry our voice.

It sure doesn’t feel that way anymore, hyperbole aside I always dread voting because of the long lines and it taking forever. The past two elections I’ve started early voting and it’s been so much better.

If you have the ability, don’t wait until the general Election Day, cast your vote early and be in and out in mere minutes.

Host your own content

On a typical day when I see a link to an article with Medium in the URL, I tend to skip it and think the reason for this is subconsciously I don’t like how hostile Medium has been.

A great example is this morning. I was checking my Twitter stream and seen someone I respect share a link to a Medium article. I read it, then went into the comments, and then went back to authors bio and thought I’d check out some of their other work. That’s when I got hit with this.

Does the author know Medium is doing this? Do they care? I have no idea but as a content creator, it offends me Medium would do this.

I know many people use Medium because it’s easier to gain readers but I’m not sure I believe that. Even today search engine traffic dwarfs social, so don’t let the focus on the short-term cloud your judgment.

You are free to put your content wherever you wish, but I’d recommend buying a domain and host it your self. Most of my readers are developers so this is easy for them, and those of you that aren’t you can buy a domain and use an existing paid service. WordPress, Squarespace, Ghost, etc.

All this mirrors what the news media is going through with Facebook. They’ve come to be so reliant on a service they don’t pay for and they don’t own. The old business adage fits perfectly here. Don’t build your business on someone else’s product.

1Password for 2FA

The common security precaution is to never reuse the same password and the only sane way you can do that is by utilizing a password manager. There are few different companies making these and even Apple has one integrated, and I recommend you use one of these. Especially with how prevalent hacks are nowadays.

My password manager of choice is 1Password and it’s fantastic with its integration into all my Apple products. I can’t speak for Windows, Android, or any other operating system. Outside of just being a password manager it also offers an often forgotten feature where you can use it as an authenticator for two-factor auth.

They call this feature one-time passwords and to set it up all you need to do is visit the service where you want to add 2FA, get the QR screen and then follow these steps.

On the Mac

  1. Open and unlock 1Password, select the Login item for the website, and click Edit.
  2. Click the item type menu to the right of a new field and choose One-Time Password.
  3. Click the QR code icon to open the QR code scanner window.
  4. Drag the window over the QR code from the website.

    If you can’t scan the QR code, most sites will give you a code you can copy and paste instead.

  5. Click Save.

On iOS

  1. Open and unlock 1Password, select the Login item for the website, and tap Edit.
  2. Tap “Add new one-time password”.
  3. Tap the QR code icon to scan the QR code from another device.

    If you can’t scan the QR code, most sites will give you a code you can copy and paste instead.

  4. Tap Done.

Check their support docs for more details and for instructions on other operating systems.

After you have it set up the login flow is so smooth. You visit a site, it enters your user/pass combo, then automatically copies the 2FA code to your clipboard so you can then paste it in on the next screen. Finally, after a few seconds, it restores your clipboard back to what it was previously.

It’s amazing how nice the integration is and it works on all your computers, so when you are on your desktop you don’t even need your phone.

Book Review: A Higher Loyalty

A Higher Loyalty by James Comey has been out for a few months now and it is one I was hesitant to start reading because I assumed it to be a completely different book than what it actually is. I wrongly assumed it was all about politics and I was thoroughly surprised when it wasn’t.

James Comey is a man that I didn’t know much about before reading this book. I knew he was the leader of the FBI and that I disagreed with him on the encryption battle that raged a few years ago, but beyond that, all I knew is both political parties seemed to hate him. To me, that means he is doing something right.

A Higher Loyalty is a book about truth, lies, and leadership and written from his point of view that goes through his personal life. I enjoyed the style of the book and hearing his side of the story on the Martha Stewart trial, the Bush administration’s torture policy, the Clinton Emails, and of course his firing by Trump.

What I most enjoyed was his commentary on Clinton’s emails and seeing the case through the FBI lens versus the talking heads that everyone seemed to parrot back during the election season. Of course, the left thinks he handed the win to Trump because of his actions around the case, but I’ve never agreed with that. I think most people had already made up their minds on who they are going to vote for before then. At least that is the vibe I get from my area which granted is a hard red state.

Then the final chapters were devoted to the Trump presidency and his meetings with the president up until he was fired. What is funny to me is Comey could be lying about everything but, for me, he gets the benefit of the doubt because of how often Trump lies.

This paragraph really hit home to me and what I struggled with during the entire 2016 election season, and sickeningly it’s still happening today:

I see many so-called conservative commentators, including some faith leaders, focusing on favorable policy initiatives or court appointments to justify their acceptance of this damage, while deemphasizing the impact of this president on basic norms and ethics. That strikes me as both hypocritical and morally wrong. The hypocrisy is evident if you simply switch the names and imagine that a President Hillary Clinton had conducted herself in a similar fashion in office.

Even with all this, he concludes that he optimistic on the future and that we will reverse course and the balance of power of the three branches will come back closer to what the founders intended.


Overall, I really enjoyed this book and it kept me engaged all the way through. The chapters were short, and it was an easy read. I’d recommend it if you have any interest in the law and like to see things from many different angles.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon for $16, but I was able to get a used copy for less than $5 with free shipping.

Process Cards with Stripe + Twilio

Stripe just announced support for Twilio Pay:

Phone payments are especially common in industries like food, travel, healthcare, retail, and nonprofits, but payment details are often keyed in manually by a human agent. This flow can be riddled with errors and expose companies to security and compliance risks. That’s why we’re partnering with Twilio to help companies integrate phone payments quickly while ensuring the checkout flow remains secure and PCI compliant.

With Twilio <Pay>, businesses can now securely collect payment details with an interactive voice response flow, which is useful for automating payment experiences such as bill collection or donations. For a more personalized experience, employees can also walk customers through an order over the phone: when it’s time to collect the payment, the agent activates Twilio <Pay> to let the customer enter payment info using their keypad—agents can follow the customer’s progress, but won’t see or hear the card details.

This will be huge for anyone that handles phone sales or customers that struggle with online forms. It reminded of an interaction I recently had with a live chat agent where I wanted to switch a subscription to a new plan. For whatever reason, they said that they would need to cancel my current order and then have me resubscribe and re-enter my payment info. They were able to push a new popup to me that included all the forms and outside the agent’s eyes. I thought it was clever.

My Everyday Carry

I have an affection for everyday carry items. I love looking at checking out blog posts, or Instagram posts that feature what others carry. Of course, I work from home and half the time I’m in my PJ’s so I don’t carry a lot, but when I do go out here is my current items.

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Here is a list of each of the items:

  • Opinel №8 – At $15 it’s an inexpensive knife that gets the job done. It also has a whole subreddit for enthusiasts.
  • Kaweco Fountain Pen – This was recommended to me by a friend and I absolutely love it. They make cheaper versions with plastic cases but there is something satisfying about having something with the nicks and scratches you put on it.
  • iPhone XS – I’ve been happy with this phone and love the camera.
  • Apple Airpods – These things are amazing.
  • Duckbill Money Clip – I just got this money clip based on a recommendation and it lives up to the hype. It’s the easiest clip I’ve used to get your money in and out. Just be warned shipping is a little slow. It took two weeks for it to arrive.

Custom Apple Watch Faces

One thing that has been sorely missing with the Apple Watch is the ability to create custom watch faces. I’ve long thought that at the minimum Apple should make all the existing one themeable through something as simple as CSS, but of course, I’m just someone sitting in the peanut gallery and I have no idea how they work.

Steven Troughton-Smith decided to take this a step further and created a Github project named SpriteKitWatchFace that is a simple project to create a ‘fake’ Apple Watch watch face using Sprite Kit. You can see some of the examples in the feature image of this post.

David Smith, an iOS developer, used the SpriteKitWatchFace project and wrote up a post on how he used it to duplicate an iconic watch face and I loved his closing in reference to Apple’s marketing of the Apple Watch:

When Apple first introduced the Apple Watch in 2014 their tag line for the original version was “Apple’s Most Personal Device Ever”. And it’s true, the Apple Watch is profoundly personal, it sits next to your skin all day, literally listening to your heart beating. But it wasn’t until this week of perfecting my own personal watch face that I really felt like the watch on my wrist was truly mine.

That hits home for me. I don’t care if my phone looks like everyone else’s, but a watch is so personal I think it matters. At least to me, anyway. Hopefully, Apple will eventually make this easier for everyone that wants a custom face.

Book Review: It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work

Do you have employees, run a business, work in software, or sick and tired of your current workplace? If any of those are true then you need to grab a copy of Jason Fried and DHH’s new book, It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work.

I’ve been a fan of these guys for years and I’m also a Basecamp customer so I’ve been following their path for a while now and was excited to see Jason doing a Q&A at Laracon this year. Those are some of the reasons I jumped in to buy this book but that just got me interested. I thought the book itself was fantastic and that it lived up to the hype.

Our culture says that we should do whatever it takes to succeed. Put in 80 hours if need be, work through the weekend, push through, hustle. Do it for the team, the family life can wait.

Rightly so they call B.S. on this and give plenty of examples from their company and from many leaders in their respective fields. Here is one of my favorite quotes related to this from the book:

A great work ethic isn’t about working whenever you’re called upon. It’s about doing what you say you’re going to do, putting in a fair day’s work, respecting the work, respecting the customer, respecting coworkers, not wasting time, not creating unnecessary work for other people, and not being a bottleneck.

As I flip back through my copy of the book, almost every page has a highlight or sentences underlined. So much of this hit home to me. Another one of my favorite quotes is related to how many companies claim “we are all a family”:

The best companies aren’t families. They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. They’re there to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments so that when workers shut their laptops at a reasonable hour, they’re the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.

Right now where I work employees just four people outside of the owners and it does feel like a family because we are close, but they 100% follow what the quote above points out and it’s amazing working for a place like that. In fact, much of what is outlined in the book my employer already does, to say I’m lucky in that regard is an understatement.

It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work is set up in distinct sections with essay’s that support the overarching goal of the section. This allows the book to touch on many different areas of running a business but also makes it accessible to managers, and employees. All wound together in a book that can be read in a short time. Unlike most business books, they’ve left out the cruft and put all the focus on getting their points across as quickly and sufficiently as possible.

It’s a five-star rating from me and you should buy a copy, read it, then give it to your boss or employees.

Daily Analog Log Books

This year I started keeping an analog log book and it’s been fun to flip back through it, but I noticed that due to the size of the notebook I’m not including tons of information for each day. So it’s great for the highlights but misses a lot of the little things that might not be important at the time but that later I might want to remember.

What I decided to try next is to get a bigger notebook and combine everything from one day into the sheet. The bullet todos, a mini calendar, notes, news, and other things that I find interesting. Here is an example from today:

 

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Yesterday’s Log

 

The way this setup should be pretty self-explanatory by looking at it, but I start the day writing out the days important todos. Much like the bullet journal style. Next, I create the hourly calendar and attempt to schedule my day. I create an ideas section so I have a place to quickly write down things that come to mind throughout the day, and a news section for news that I was interested in. Typically this would be things I’d want to research later or think about writing about. Finally, the remainder of the page is left blank for notes, and other things. In this case, I was researching a reporting bug and found something that I wanted to research more but didn’t have time too.

Granted I’ve only been this for a short time (yesterday) I think I’m going to enjoy looking back and having so much more context around a single day.  Time will tell though.

Video: How I make the Laravel News Featured Images

It’s funny how you can create something and then totally forget about it, never to blog about it, and then in a matter of a few days have multiple conversations that point back to it.

In this case, it’s how I make the featured images on the Laravel News site, and I made a Youtube video of the entire process back in April of 2017 but I never shared it. So if you enjoy seeing how the sausage gets made you can watch it below:

If you’d like to see any other workflows that I use to run Laravel News, for development, or anything else let me know in the comments. I’m happy to share.

Digital Theft

I’ve had my house broken into once, but I remember that feeling of walking in and seeing everything you own thrown everywhere. That feeling of being personally violated.

I still get that same feeling when I experience digital theft. It seems like a few times a week I see more words stolen or graphics I created used without credit. Every time I see it, it bothers me. One of my favorites is when these same people submit their site to  Laravel Links and as the one who approves the listings, it shows the blatant disrespect they have for my work.

I’ve learned to live with it and not let it eat at me, and one thing that has helped is just realizing there is nothing you can do. As a single person fighting it is futile, and the best option is to keep your head down and just focus on creating the best stuff you can.

The copier is someone with no originality or talent, so they think shortcuts will help them, but all they are doing is taking the lazy way and not learning how or why it was created in the first place.