Most-Important Tasks: Origins

Humans have been making lists for as long as there has been writing. Umberto Eco called the list “the origin of culture.”

What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible. It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity? How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.

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My Writing Workflow

Writers tend to obsess about their writing tools and routines. I do, at least. I probably spend way too much time futzing around with pens and pencils and notebooks and text editors and document styles. Although I don’t really have a routine. But I enjoy the tools of writing as much as I love actually putting words on the page. Besides, I need something to do when the words aren’t coming.

Despite my constant tinkering, my writing workflow has been fairly consistent for the last few years. Here are the tools I use and what I do with them.

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Camping in the Boundary Waters, February 2014

I have gone camping in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness almost every February since I moved to Minnesota, fourteen years ago. With knee-deep snow and unrelenting wind gusting to 30 miles per hour, this year’s trip was by far the most challenging (even considering the year it got down to -30°F (that is the ambient temperature; the wind chill was more like -50°F).

After about a mile and a half of slogging through the snow, we finally gave up and made camp right in the wind by digging ourselves into a drift and building a wind wall with blocks of snow. Here is our campsite:

There are more pictures from this year’s trip, and I’ve collected most of the pictures from my previous trips on Flickr.

Barbarian Movie Review: Deathstalker

Deathstalker (1983) is a movie I remember seeing every time I went to the video rental store when I was a kid. I loved fantasy, so I always wanted to watch it. Unfortunately, it was rated R, and both Erol’s and Blockbuster scrupulously observed the ratings back then. Now, 30 years after it was released, I finally got to stream it on Netflix .

It was a bit more disappointing than I thought it would be.

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Roll Your Own Dropbox with BitTorrent Sync on Amazon EC2

File sync is awesome. Without the ability to get at my files on all my computers (4, currently), I don’t know how I would function. That said, I’m not super-fired-up about Dropbox’s security and privacy practices (or Google Drive’s, for that matter), particularly in light of recent news.

So I got pretty excited when I learned about BitTorrent Sync, software that syncs your files without requiring you to give the key to those files to a company like Dropbox or Google. Like its namesake, BitTorrent Sync is decentralized. It syncs files between the computers you install it on, and does not rely on any central server.

Unfortunately, the lack of a central server is also a downside. If you have a desktop and laptop, for example, BitTorrent Sync will only sync up your files when both of your computers are turned on and connected to the Internet. That’s not a problem with Dropbox, because Dropbox’s servers keep your files synced up all the time, even if your computers are never connected to the Internet at the same time. But if you got BitTorrent Sync running on your own server, you could get this same functionality.

That’s why I figured out how to install BitTorrent Sync on an Amazon EC2 server. Here’s how I did it (with crucial help from the friendly folks on #ubuntu-server at freenode).

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Sherpak Go 15 Roof Bag Review

Last weekend, my wife and I took our daughters (almost two and almost four) camping. It was the first camping trip for all four of us, and we needed to fit four people, a dog, and all our gear into our little Jetta Wagon. The morning we planned to leave, we finally realized we were never going to fit everything inside the car.

I have wanted a great big Yakima roof box for years, but I have had trouble selling Jess on a $500+ box that will take up the entire roof of her car. So we started looking at roof bags. In the short time available to us, we decided to get the Sherpak Go 15 based on the reviews. Then we drove about two hours through a torrential downpour to our campsite, just to make sure we gave our new roof bag a good workout.

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Put Your Dog on a Leash

That’s my dog, Josie. Josie is awesome. She is big and furry and looks kind of like a wolf. And she makes Chewbacca sounds. We probably should have called her Chewie. She can run all day and hold her bladder all night, and she loves to stay outside all day in the winter. Josie is obsessed with squirrels, and she even catches them sometimes.

She loves people — except mail carriers. Josie is also an excellent guard dog, because who would break into a house with a big wolf-looking dog hanging out on the front porch? And when my daughters stick their fingers in her eyes or nose, she just wags her tail and flops over on her back so they can rub her belly.

Yep, unless you are a mail carrier, a squirrel, or another dog, my dog is awesome.

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Use IFTTT + Buffer to Update All Your Social Media Profiles

There are a bunch of options for updating multiple social media profiles at the same time. Many of the best ones cost money, and many of the free ones don’t work all that well.

I need a way to update Lawyerist‘s Twitter feed, Facebook page, LinkedIn group, and Google+ page with each new post. I was using a hodgepodge of options for a long time, including FeedBurner for Twitter, Twitterfeed for the Facebook page, and updating the LinkedIn group and Google+ page manually. This worked, but not well. I couldn’t always get LinkedIn and Google+ updated on time, and Twitterfeed recently stopped updating our Facebook page altogether. Plus, our analytics were spread all over the place.

The other day, I was poking around in my IFTTT and Buffer accounts, and I think I finally found a pretty-close-to-perfect solution.

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