One Last First Trip to the Library

One of the great pleasures of having a child five years younger than the next oldest child is that I get to revisit things that I did with the older kids, and maybe savor the moments a bit more than I did the first times around. Yesterday, for instance, I took the Littlest Miss to get her very first library card. She will turn five next month, and I’ve been promising to take her to the library for several weeks now. I’d been busy with work and other activities, but told her that we’d do it yesterday. She woke up excited to go to the library, asking over and over if it was time to go yet.

Libraries are incredibly important to me. My mom took me to our local library when I was about the same age as the Littlest Miss, and libraries have made a huge difference in my life. I learned to read in grade school. I learned to think critically in high school. I learned how to learn in college. But books gave me knowledge, took me around the world, deep into the atom, and far into space. The library I frequented in Los Angeles as a teenager even provided a haven during the hot summer months. I could walk there under the blazing sun, and then explore the rows of books for hours in the cool air conditioned space.

So I set out for one last first trip to the library. I took both my daughters to our local branch of the Arlington Public Library, my younger daughter to get her first library card, my older daughter to renew hers. The Littlest Miss could barely contain herself as she emerged from the car. Holding my hand, she pulled me along the sidewalk, down the small flight of stairs, and into the main entrance. It was hot and muggy out, but the air inside was cool and dry.

We went first to the circulation desk where the girls obtained their new library cards. They were given a choice of colors. The Littlest Miss chose pink. The Little Miss chose yellow. Once they had their cards, the Littlest Miss asked the librarian at the circulation desk where she could find the kids books. Then it was off to the races. I think she was a little overwhelmed by the rows and rows of books. I expected her to wander the aisles, trying to figure out what she wanted, but in less than a minute she had a book in hand.

The Littlest Miss among the books
The Littlest Miss among the books

“Can I get this one?” she asked, holding up a copy of Bitty Bot’s Big Beach Getaway by Tim McCanna (and illustrated by Tad Carpenter).

“Of course,” I said. “Do you want to get another one, too?”

“Can I?” said said, eyes wide.

“Sure.”

So she quickly picked out two more books. Meanwhile, I helped the Little Miss locate a book that she was looking for. When they were ready, we headed over to the self-checkout station. I showed them both how to scan their library card, how to scan the books, how to get a receipt so that they know when they need to return the books. The Littlest Miss was delighted with all of this, and wanted to do it all herself. We thanked the librarian for his help, and then we headed back into the hot, humid air for the drive home.

I’m not sure what the Littlest Miss was more excited about, getting books, knowing that she can get more books when she is ready, or having her very own library card, which she put in her backpack so she’d know where it is.

Kids are so busy with activities these day that I suspect mine won’t spend nearly as much time as I did in the public library. But I try to encourage them to use it, and it was certainly an exciting morning for one little girl in particular. It is nice to see the kids excited about something that isn’t a YouTube or TikTok video. Over time, I’m hoping they find that the library is more than just a place to get free books. It’s a place to learn new things, read about people and places that they may be unfamiliar with, and maybe even discover a passion that they didn’t know they had. This is the real value a library provides: discovery–about the world and about themselves.

I’m grateful that I had one last first trip to the library.

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Milestone: 3 Million Views on the Blog

Over the weekend, the blog passed a major milestone: 3 million views over its nearly 16 years life. It is creeping up on a second milestone, 1.5 million unique visitors over that same period of time.

When I started the blog (on LiveJournal! remember that?) I had no plan. I just thought it would be fun to have a place to write in public. The blog migrated from LiveJournal to WordPress (self-managed) back in 2009, and more recently to WordPress.com earlier this summer.

In the early days on WordPress (circa 2009), I remember getting 10 or 20 views a day and being happy that there was a handful of people out there enjoying what I wrote. Over the years, those numbers steadily climbed. I didn’t do much that I am aware of to make that happen. I just tried to write things that interested me. I remember when the daily views hit about 100/day that I was thrilled. After I began writing my Going Paperless posts, things really picked up and for several years, I was seeing 3,000 or 4,000 views per day on average, something that astonished me, but that also made me nervous. I knew most of those views were for the paperless posts, but I still wanted to write about whatever interested me.

As life got busier, as more of my attention was taken up with my kids and family, I wrote less. I “retired” as Evernote’s paperless ambassador, and retired the paperless column, which had always been an experiment in my mind. Readership went down on the blog and along with it, the daily views. I think last year (2020) was a low-point for the blog. I wrote less than ever before, and I missed writing here. That is part of the reason that I decided to try to write here every day in 2020. These days, the daily views on the blog are a tenth of what they were at the blog’s peak readership, but I’ve noticed a definite trend upward, and that pleases me because I am writing about what I want, and not trying to focus on one niche.

I used to obsess over the blog stats. I try not to do this anymore but sometimes, I can’t help it. I’m amazed that the blog has lasted as long as it has, and I’m grateful for all of my readers, especially those who have been around for a very long time. I’ve never tried to compare my stats with other sites, so I don’t know where I stand. I’m sure there are sites out there that get 3 million views in a single month (and possible in a single day), but I’m happy with the slow-but-steady accumulation I’ve managed over the last 16 years.

The first million views could have been an accident. The second million maybe showed that I was on to something. The third million just helps to convince me that there are people out there who enjoy what I write. What can be better than writing what you enjoy for people who enjoy what you write? I am eternally grateful to everyone that comes here to read what I write, who leaves a comment, or emails me with kind words, or questions. You have all made this more fun than I could have possibly imagined when I started out.

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Adding Pins to the Map

Later this summer we will be heading on our annual summer road trip, or what I like to call “adding pins to the map.” For our tenth anniversary, Kelly got me a framed map of the United States that came with a tin of pins. The title at the bottom of the map is “The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly.” I decided that I would only put pins in places that Kelly and I have been together, either with or without our kids. Over the years since we’ve added pins here and there, and I’m excited to be able to add some more pins later this summer.

The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly
The Adventures of Jamie and Kelly

The map hangs on the wall of our dining room. When people see it, they often ask, “What do the colors mean?” I have to explain that they don’t mean anything. They were the colors that came in the tin of pins that accompanied the map. I’ve had to explain this enough times to where I’ve been tempted to put a label in one corner of the map with a legend, “Pin colors carry no meaning.”

We’ve done a good job covering much of the east coast together and with the kids. We’ve been to L.A. together, and to Seattle with the Little Man. We’ve also been to San Antonio with the Little Man. I’ve been wanting to gradually make our way west on our road trips. We drive down to Florida several times a years and I’ve used string to measure out the distance from our house to southern Florida, and then mapped out a circumference to show that same distance spread out to the west. We’ve gone as far as Nashville in our road trips.

Usually, we will head up to Maine in the summer, but every few years we decided to do something different. This year we are planning a trip up to Niagara Falls. Neither of us have been there before, and the kids should enjoy it as well. On our way up, we’ll stop to see friends in Albany, NY. We may hit Cooperstown and the National Baseball Hall of Fame. As it is mapped out so far, our trip is a kind of circle around central New York, eastern Ohio, and Pennsylvania, so we will definitely be adding pins to the map, which is always fun.

I sometimes wonder what this map will look like by the time all of our kids head off for college. I hope that we can fill more of it up before then. Traveling the roads together, going to interesting places, getting the kids out to see things they might not otherwise see is a real treat, and something I am always grateful that we can do. Most of our vacations are road trip vacations of one form or another, and I like that because it frees us to up go at our own pace, and change our minds along the way if something of interest catches our eye. (This happened on the way to Nashville a few years back, when we detoured to the Hermitage, to see the home of Andrew Jackson.)

Another thing I like about this map is it quickly answers the kids’ question, “Have I ever been to…?” All they have to do is glance at the map to know if we’ve been to a place.

Next year, we may need to add a world map, as we are planning to head to Europe with the kids. Then we can look forward to adding pins to that map as well.

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Trailhead: My Newest Field Notes Addition

As part of my Field Notes annual subscription, I get a quarterly shipment of the newest Field Notes notebooks. Yesterday’s mail brought their 51st quarterly edition, “Trailhead.” This edition’s theme, as you might guess from the title, are the great trails of the United States. Each 3-pack of notebooks comes with a different trail printed on the back, and facts about the trail on the inside back flap of the notebook.

My new Field Notes "Trailhead" notebooks
My new Field Notes “Trailhead” notebooks

These editions contain lined pages. I prefer squares or dotted squares, but I like that these pages are an off-white. As with most of the subscription packs, this one came with an extra goodie: a Field Notes “Blaze Your Trail” patch.

Field Notes Blaze Your Trail patch

This quarterly shipment is the 17th consecutive quarterly shipment I’ve received from Field Notes since I began subscribing back in 2016. I began my subscription with their 34th quarterly edition and the Trailhead edition marks Field Notes 51st quarterly edition. Despite having filled more than 30 notebooks at this point, I still have more coming in than I can fill at any moment. I have a section of shelf in my office dedicated to a wide variety of fresh notebooks to choose from once I fill one up:

My collection of Field Notes notebooks ready for use when I need a fresh one.
My collection of Field Notes notebooks ready for use when I need a fresh one.

I have a tendency to use whatever the latest notebook is as the next notebook, so chances are good I’ll pull out one of the Trailhead notebooks when I finish with my current notebook–which happens to be a United States of Letterpress edition.

It’s fun to occasionally go back and flip through the old notebooks. There is all kinds interesting stuff in them, like when I had to locate the name of a beer I liked. I recently began an experiment of scanning in the old notebooks to make them easier to search no matter where I was. I scanned in one as an experiment. Now I have to go back and scan in the other 29 that I have already filled. I’ll get to that eventually. Filling a notebook is much more fun than scanning one.

It occurred to me that while I know of friends and a few other people online who have told me that they also use Field Notes notebooks, I’ve never run into anyone at the grocery store, or a conference, or anywhere else I can think of that has a Field Notes notebook in their pocket, and is pulling out the notebook frequently enough for me to notice that they are using one two. I see people with Yankees hats all the time. How come I don’t see more people with Field Notes notebooks (or any notebook) for that matter, jotting things down? Does everyone use their phone for this stuff these day? I still find taking notes on my phone way too cumbersome and time-consuming.

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Audible Stats for the first Half of 2021

Audible was kind enough to send me an email highlighting some of my listening stats for the first half of 2021. Here is what they sent me:

That 24,063 minutes amounts to about 400 hours of listening time so far this year. Keep in mind that the 76 titles is how many titles I’ve started, not how many I’ve finished. According to my own records, I’ve finished 48 books so far this year. I’m about 7 books behind my pace of 100 books for the year. The main reason is that I’ve sunk a lot of time in catching up back episodes of the Tim Ferriss Show Podcast.

I love Audible, but they are owned by Amazon, and as I have pointed out, Amazon is terrible at predicting what I want to read based on what I have already read. In this case, the message from Audible was that “mysteries & thrillers are your jam.” Actually, I’ve read far more books on information theory this year than I have mysteries or thrillers.

This was actually a useful reminder that I need to get back to my usual volume of reading. I’ve slowed down a bit, but it’s about time that things returned to normal.

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I Dream of In-n-Out

I have a confession to make: it has been 730 days since my last Double-Double. If that number sounds familiar it is because it also happens to be the same number of days in exactly two years. Yes, two years ago today was the last time I had an In-n-Out burger.

My last In-n-Out meal in July 2019

I’m not going to debate the relative merits of whether In-n-Out burgers are better than, say Five Guys, or Shake Shack. For me In-n-Out burgers and fries are superior to all other chain burgers and fries I’ve ever tried and that’s good enough for me. But I will recall here a recurring day-dream I have. It goes something like this:

I wake up in the morning, and grab my phone to scan the news. After scanning the headlines, I usually checkout the local Patch site for local news. On this particular morning, the top story on the Patch news for my town is a banner headline that reads:

IN-N-OUT TO OPEN LOCAL FRANCHISE

In my reverie, this is some of the most exciting news I’ve ever heard. Forget election results, or billionaires in space, I am just giddy over the fact that there will be an In-n-Out nearby.

Some people imagine winning the lottery and what they’d do with their fortune. I prefer to daydream that an In-n-Out opens nearby. That would be like winning the lottery to me.

I never take my day-dream beyond the discovery that an In-n-Out will be opening locally. I know everything after that will be something of a disappointment. The food, of course, would be fantastic, but I could only imagine the crowds that a local In-n-Out would attract. People would wait hours to get a burger. Parking would be impossible. It would, in all likelihood, be a tease. The restaurant there, within reach, and yet impossible to get food from thanks to crowds and parking problems. It might as well be in Santa Monica for all of the good it would do me.

The reality is, I’m glad there is no In-n-Out anywhere near where I live. It makes the rare visits when I am back in California for work all that more special.

I have a good imagination, and when I have a clear vision for something, I usually manage to achieve it. I’m confident that I’ll get to have another Double-Double someday. For now, I’m happy just dreaming about it.

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204 Consecutive Days of Posts

I missed this milestone a few days ago, so I’ll mention it now. Today is my 204th consecutive day of posting here on the blog. My goal at the beginning of the year was to get back to writing and posting every day here, and so far, more than halfway through the year, I seem to be meeting that goal. In 204 days I’ve written 225 posts totaling 137,000 words, and averaging about 600 words each. It amounts to four times what I wrote for all of 2020.

Consecutive days of posting in 2021

It is not always easy. Sometimes I am at a loss of what to write about, but I sit down anyway and write. Some posts are better than others, and some posts that I think would get more attention go almost unnoticed. But I keep it up, and it is one of the highlights of my day when I sit down to write here.

I just bought myself a celebratory beer and am enjoying the milestone. And I’m looking forward to the 161 days remaining in the year, wondering what the heck I’m going to write about to make my quota for each day. Of course, thinking about what to write is one of the best parts.

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The Weekly Playbook #4: Finishing a Notebook: Transcribe or Scan?

For an overview of this series, see the debut post on my morning routine.

Background

I am rarely without a Field Notes notebook in my back pocket. Several times a day, I pull out my notebook to jot something down: an idea for a post; notes from a podcast; the names of people I meet; items to pick up at the grocery store; the name of the server in the restaurant we ate at; funny lines I hear at a gathering. I do this so that I can remember these things later. Some of them find their way into posts I write, some into stories. Other things are more ephemeral, but even a server’s name in a restaurant can be useful if I am searching for a character name in a story.

I’ve filled more than 30 of these notebooks since 2015. They sit in a nice row on a shelf in my office. Occasionally I go back to them, to look for something, like when I was searching for a particular brand of beer recently. The problem is, I only have access to them when I am sitting here in my office. It would be nice to have access to them no matter where I was.

my 30 completed field notes notebooks with an index notebook on top
My 30 completed Field Notes notebooks, with an index notebook on top.

This weekly playbook is a kind of experiment. I began with the idea that I wanted to be able to access these notes anywhere. I had two ideas:

  1. Transcribe the notebooks into Obsidian, where my other notes live, or
  2. Scan them into Evernote

I decide to try both in order to see what worked better for me. The playbook section below has the procedures I followed for each. In each case, I used my most recently completed notebook, book #30. I’ll describe my findings in the commentary.

Playbook

Transcribing notebook into Obsidian

  1. Create a Field Notes folder in Obsidian
  2. Create a new note called “Book 30 – March to June 2021.
  3. Begin typing in the notes using the following guidelines:
    • Make each “day” a header in the notes
    • If my handwriting is unintelligible, put question marks and move on.
    • Wherever I have a dividing line in my notebook, include a divider in the notes file
    • Use only one file per notebook

Scanning notebook into Evernote

  1. Create a Field Notes notebook in Evernote.
  2. Using the Scannable app by Evernote, scan in all 48 pages of my notebook #30, including the cover and inside cover.
  3. Once scanned, put the note in the Field Notes notebook
  4. Title the note “Book 30 – March to June 2021”
  5. Set the create date of the note to March 1, 2021
transcribed notebook page in obsidian
A transcribed notebook page in Obsidian
scanned notebook page in evernote
A scanned notebook page in Evernote

Commentary

It probably took me an hour to transcribe the first 15 pages of the Field Notes notebook into Obsidian. After an hour I stopped. It is easy enough to estimate that a full notebook would take me a little over 3 hours to transcribe.

On the other hand, it took about 15 minutes to scan the entire notebook into Evernote using the Scannable app. (I think Evernote’s Scannable app does a slightly better job at scanning than the regular iOS app does.)

For me, the Evernote scan is the better over all option. There are several reasons for this:

  1. It is quick enough to make it worthwhile. Investing 15 minutes to have the contents of the notebook available to me anywhere is a worthwhile investment of time. 3 hours is a little much. I am not likely to invest 3 hours, but 15 minutes is no big deal.
  2. The notebook really is available anywhere. The screenshot above is from my phone. I can flip through the pages just as I can with any PDF.
  3. Scanning preserves everything in my notes, include occasional sketches and diagrams that I make.
  4. Evernote uses its AI to attempt to make the PDF searchable. It is supposed to be able to recognize handwriting. I made several attempt, but I think my handwriting is too messy. Still, for people with very neat writing, the notebook is searchable. I keep the notes in their own notebook in Evernote for this reason: when I want to search for something in a Field Notes notebook, I can limit the search to notes in the Field Notes notebook so that I don’t get results from other sources.

There are a few cons to using Evernote over Obsidian:

  1. The notebook is not as searchable as it would be if I transcribed it into Obsidian. I could probably find things faster in Obsidian.
  2. My notes would be in plain text format and could be manipulated like any plain text.
  3. I could do more dynamic linking of my notes to other notes using Obsidian. (You can link to other notes in Evernote, but there is no practical way to do this in scanned documents.)

Another consideration is that I want to get my entire backlog of notebooks in a format that I can access anywhere. Transcribing 30 notebooks into Obsidian would be an investment of nearly 100 hours of my time. Scanning 30 notebooks into Evernote is an investment of 7-1/2 hours. From a practical standpoint, this is a no-brainer.

Then, too, since the notes already exist, they fit into the model of using Evernote for curation and collection, and using Obsidian for creation.

Remember, my goal at the outset was to be able to access the notebooks from anywhere. My goal wasn’t to make them as searchable as they could be. I’m fine flipping through a PDF to find what I am looking for. It usually doesn’t take very long, so it seems like the investment in time to manually transcribe all of my notes would be overkill.

Going forward, when I finish a notebook, I’ll follow the procedures for scanning that notebook into Evernote.

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The Silence and the Noise

I found myself listening to Metallica’s …And Justice For All album after I finished a long day of meetings. The noise acts as a kind of palette-cleanser for the brain, blocking out much of everything else until my brain has had a chance to put everything back in order. Ironically, the loud, metal music actually quiets my mind.

Whenever I listen to that album, it brings to mind physics. In my senior year of high school, I took A.P. physics with a fabulous teacher, one of the best I had in high school. Our physics homework was nothing to sneeze at and it sometimes could take a couple of hours to complete. Whenever I tackled that homework, I always had my Walkman headphones on my ears, and Metallica’s …And Justice For All cassette in the player. I always did my physics homework listening to that album and today, I can’t think of the album without seeing a physics textbook in front of me, and a message notebook page filed with pencil scratches. The music, the noise, had a similar effect as it does after a long day of meetings. It cleared my mind and allowed me to focus on the problem at hand with no other distractions.

I did alright in A.P. physics (indeed, I entered college as a physics major), but looking back, I think I might have done even better if I’d been allowed to listen to …And Justice For All during the tests.

Your author, listening to ...And Justice For All </em>really loudly while he writes this.
Your author, listening to …And Justice For All really loudly while he writes this.

At work, when I am trying to solve a particularly difficult coding problem, I often put on a loud album. It has the effect of blocking out everything else and concentrating my focus the problem at hand. It really is a strange, magnifying effect. Often, I never actually hear the music. It acts as the pillow under the sheets so that my mind can wander off and take care of whatever business is at hand and no one’s the wiser. In a way, this is frustrating. I like the music and want to listen to it, but that isn’t the reason I’ve got it on.

When it comes to writing, and especially writing fiction, I need silence. I’ve tried listening to music now and then, but when I am writing and listen to a loud album, it clears my head of everything, including the voices that whisper the story to me. I find this fascinating. The same thing that clears my mind to solve physics problems, blocks creativity when I try to write stories. Very rarely, I’ll find a song that I can write to, that puts me in just the right mood I need to complete a scene. In these cases, I will play the same song over and over and over until the scene is complete. Most of the time, however, when I write I need silence.

When I am writing nonfiction, I can tolerate music a little more, but I still prefer silence. There are exceptions. When I sat down to write this post, I put on the …And Justice For All album, and I managed to write the whole thing listening to the album. Can you tell?

If you’ve ever wondered how long it take me to write 600 word post, I have a pretty good measurement for you. It took exactly the first two-and-a-half songs of the album for me to complete this: all of “Blackened”; all of the lengthy “…And Justice For All”; and a little over half of “Eye of the Beholder.”

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My 3 Cyber Security Tools, July 2021 Edition

Back in May when I made a call for suggestions on what to write here, one of the good ones was from Steve, who wrote: “Any thoughts or concerns you might have related to cyber security. Potential tips/processes you employ to protect yourself.” Ten years ago, when I was writing my Going Paperless series, I wrote a piece on securing your digital filing cabinet (in Evernote). With Steve’s prodding, I’ll write about three ways I protect myself and my data–not just Evernote but all my data.

1. LastPass for password management

I began using LastPass as my password manager of choice in the spring of 2013 and I’ve been happily using it ever since. The service has gotten better as the years have gone by. It integrates seamless with browsers, and it also integrates seamlessly with iOS making it simple to access passwords when I need them. These days, I use LastPass’s Family Plan, so that I can share passwords with the family as needed.

It was no small effort to get set up initially. It took me a full weekend, back in 2013, to go through all my services, and change my password, giving each one a unique, strong password. But once that initial work was done, it has been easy to manage ever since.

Here is how I used LastPass today:

  1. I create a unique, strong password for each service or account that I have. I use LastPass to generate strong passwords. It integrates so well with browsers and with iOS these days that I rarely have to remember a password. Having a strong password means it is harder to crack. Ensuring I have a unique password for every service means that in the unlikely event a password is cracked, only one service will be breached.
  2. I always enable 2-factor authentication if it is available. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a mechanism that forces a service to confirm your identify by a second method after a password has been entered. Typically, this will send a text message to your mobile device with a code number. That way, if someone does crack my strong password, the person will still need the code number sent to my phone in order to get the password. I also use LastPass’s Authenticator as another type of authentication. Two factor authentication adds a layer of security, so it takes a few seconds longer to access whatever service I am trying to get into, but it worth the added security.
  3. I always use random words for challenge questions. You know how some services will have you provide answers to 3 questions like “Your mother’s maiden name?” or “The model of your first car?” I never answer those questions with real information. Instead, I wrote a little shell script that gives me a random word, and I use that word as my answer to the question. I then go to the LastPass entry for the account, and in the Notes field, I jot down the challenge question and the random word answer so that I can refer to it when I need to. This adds one more layer of security so that if someone happens to know my mother’s maiden name, or the model of my first car, that information will be useless to them.

One nice side-effect of all of this is that it provides a ready database of all of the services I have, all of the subscriptions, etc. I often use the Notes field for a service or subscription to record how much I paid for it and when it expires or if it auto-renews. So if I ever need to cancel a service, I have all of the information at hand to do it.

With the family plan, it makes it easy to share passwords for services. You can ever share the password so that it can be used but not viewed. And anyone else in the family can use LastPass for their own accounts and services as well.

I think LastPass Family costs me about $48/year, and for me, it has been well-worth the price.

2. CrashPlan Pro for data backups

CrashPlan running on my Mac Mini
CrashPlan running on my Mac Mini

I began using computers in the 1980s when it was much easier to lose data than it is today. That manifested itself in many ways, but most common was the proliferation of backups to floppy disks. Years of working in I.T. has taught me the important of backups, especially backups that are immediately available.

I have been using CrashPlan for my backups since 2013. At some point, CrashPlan did away with their family plan, but I liked their service so much that I continued with their business plan. The plan gives you unlimited backups for as many devices as you need. You pay per device. These days, we three computers on our plan that our backed up. CrashPlan is one of those tools that just works seamlessly–or, at least, it does for me. You don’t even know it is there. It does realtime backups in the background as files are changed. But it also does incremental backups so that the backup sets are always up-to-date.

I think of backups as a kind of insurance policy for our data. If a disk goes bad, or a folder gets deleted by accident, it takes only a few mouse clicks to have it restored. No panicked moments, no stress about losing work. I’ve probably restored one-off files dozens of times using CrashPlan. But CrashPlan has also been great for bigger disaster recovery, like when a whole machine died unexpectedly. For instance, early this year, I was upgrading the OS on Kelly’s laptop and something went wrong with the upgrade. I couldn’t get the machine to boot and had to do a clean install. CrashPlan came to the rescue and all of her data was restored shortly after the clean install had been completed.

CrashPlan pro costs me about $10/device/month, which comes to around $360/year. But like any insurance policy, it provides peace of mind that our data is safe. And when we’ve had to actually restore data, CrashPlan has never failed us.

3. Express VPN for secure connections

Last, but not least, I try to maintain secure connections when I am not on my home network. For this I’ve been using Express VPN for several years now. When I leave the house, I enabled Express VPN so that my devices connections (phone, iPad, laptop) go through a secure virtual private network. The data is encrypted at the source and can’t even be read by whatever service provider I happen to be using. This is particularly uses when in airports and hotels where the WiFi connections are usually not secured.

Using a VPN adds a layer of security that, like strong passwords, 2-factor authentication, and backups, gives me peace of mind that I am using best practices to protect myself and my data.

Express VPN costs about $100/year.


Do you have suggestions for cyber security tools? Let me know about them in the comments.

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Writing My Wrongs

Mistakes are great teachers. That is a hard thing to understand as a twelve year-old when the pressure of society makes you strive for perfection. I’ve tried to explain this to the Little Man, my own twelve-year old. It’s perfectly acceptable to make mistakes. That’s how we learn. The trick is to take the time to learn from our mistakes instead of just ignoring them. Make a mistake on a math problem? Look at it and figure out why? Was it careless arithmetic? A lack of understand the problem? Figure out what cause the mistake so that you can identify it the next time you see it. Of course, this is easier said than done.

One way that I try to do this is by writing down the mistakes I make–at least those that I become aware of. I call this “writing my wrongs.” When I notice that I’ve messed up some how, I’ll pull out my Field Notes notebook and jot down my mistake. I don’t always say exactly what I did wrong. Over the years, I’ve come to recognize that jotting down a corrective action, if one is available, is more valuable for my future self. A simple example comes from yesterday. I moved the laundry from the washing machine to the dryer. Later in the evening, Kelly said me to, “I appreciate you switching the laundry, but for future reference, the girls bathing suits don’t go in the dryer. It makes them shrink.” What I wrote in my notebook was, “Don’t put girls’ swimsuits in dryer.”

Writing down my mistakes does three things for me.

  1. It is an acknowledgement that I’ve messed up somehow.
  2. It provides an accessible list of things that I can work on improving
  3. The very act of writing it down helps me remember it the next time I’m in a similar situation.

The list occasionally serves another purpose: when I get a little too full of myself, I can always flip through my notebooks and see the great variety of ways that I mess up all the time.

The breadth of my mistakes is impressive. It can be something like putting the swimsuits in the dryer. Or it can be something like, “Next time, take the GW Bridge lower level to avoid that crush after the toll booth.”

Acknowledging my mistakes is important because that is one way in which I learn from them. You can’t learn if you can’t acknowledge them. Sometimes, ego gets in the way and I don’t want to admit to others that I made a mistake. These days, I try to admit my mistakes freely if only to show my kids that mistakes are an important way we learn. But even on those times when I am loathe to admit my mistakes to others, I still jot them down in my notebook so I admit them to myself.

I don’t have a particular routine for reviewing these mistakes. Sometimes I may not revisit one because writing it down fixes it in my mind. But I come across them when flipping through my notebooks, and I use that to judge if I have managed to improve. Sometimes I have, and other times, I haven’t. Still, there is something comforting to me about noticing my mistakes and writing them down. I feel like a squirrel storing acorns away for the coming winter. There are always things that I can improve, big or small, always nuts left behind in the nest that act as teachers instead of serving as food.

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If so, consider subscribing to the blog using the form below or clicking on the button below to follow the blog. And consider telling a friend about it. Didn’t like it so much? Let me know why, either in the comments, or by reaching out to me directly. I’m always looking for ways to improve. Already a reader or subscriber to the blog? Thanks for being a part of this community!

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