The Check-in. January 2018.

It has been just over a month since I wrote my 2017 wrap-up and my look ahead to 2018.

In the spirit of not abandoning this and tying to actually see these goals come to pass, I want to do some occasional check-ins to evaluate progress and direction. It is like taking home everyone’s favorite part of work, evaluations.

Organizing and Time Management
I always have this idealized system in my head of organizing tasks. It’s intricate and across many different systems. Those are also the problems with this. I use it for a little bit, but the time investment into upkeep tend to detract from it as well. I’ve decided to err on the side of pragmatism and abandon this idea and go for simplicity. Right now I’m working out of my original todo list of choice, Remember the Milk. It is simple, but allows for granularity if need be. I can easily plop tasks in it and I check it regularly. It’s been incredibly effective so far. This paired with a robust Google Calendar, which at this point look like a rainbow mated with a spreadsheet, have kept me out of trouble and on track.

Running and Fitness
I didn’t run as much as I would have liked last year so I am trying to do more of that. The weather is being kind of a fart right now, more snow than I would like, but I am plowing ahead. Plowing. Snow. GOD. I’M SO FUCKING FUNNY.

In January of 2018 I’ve run 53.3 miles including one half-marathon despite cold. In comparison, in January of 2017 I ran 18.7 miles. An improvement of 34.6 miles. That is solid! To make this a reality I have bought myself a balaclava and it has changed my life. I’d like to keep this trend going. I’ve applied again to run in the NYC marathon, and that would just be the cat’s pajamas if I were able to run that.

In addition to running, I’ve been lifting and finally worked yoga into my schedule. Sunday’s are for yoga. It’s a good, chill day to do that. I’ve been switching between P90X Yoga X and P90X3 Yoga X. They both have their strengths. P90X Yoga X is 1.5 hours so it’s a pretty big time commitment and is much harder to boot. I like the variation, though. I’ve managed to do this every week in January, and I’ve noticed it has made a big impact on my overall shoulder strength and my flexibility.

I need to start up Triathlon Tuesday’s though. That was on hiatus while my tattoo healed up because I could not swim when I did that, and never started it back up. February, get back in the pool.

Video Projects
I have made zero progress on my Twenties video project, but I do have a decent excuse, which is I’ve been editing all the talks from the Resistance Fair I helped put on with my Indivisible group. Editing talks, especially those with PowerPoints is a bear, at least on a shoestring budget. All the PowerPoint slides have to be exported as images and placed by hand where the slides change. Tedious. I will say one of the most satisfying feelings though is combining disparate sources into something cohesive. This was the case for the talks. The place we held the fair at had mics set up so I was able to leverage their mixing board. I piped the final mix out of the board to a USB soundcard I bought for like $10 to my laptop. I had my GoPro knockoff up near the stage recording with the fisheye to be able to cover the expanse of the stage. People were also asking us to livestream the event, which I didn’t think at first would be possible, but I cobbled it together at the last minute. I used the webcam that I normally use for Skype calls on my desktop to record video and the output from the mixing board along with some custom backgrounds to put the stream together. I used OBS as the stream software, which I recently learned thanks to something I will talk about a little down the page. I am glad I did do the livestream, too because Audacity, which I was using to record the audio output from the mixing board managed to corrupt the first part of the talks. I was able to snag the audio from the stream to substitute that. Overall, all the talks turned out really well. I had someone come up to me at a meeting and tell me they really appreciated whoever put those talk videos together. So, that felt nice.

Btw, I did do a talk on Net Centrality at the Fair. Check it out!

I am working on making the process better next time we do an event though. I know my GoPro knockoff can output a video stream over Wi-Fi, so if I can snag that, an audio stream, and a get a capture card for whatever laptop is outputting slides, I can livestream these with similar results without me having to do post editing. This is a good segue into…

Automation
This is a big one for me. I am a programmer, this should be second nature by now, but I do have to put the work to make this happen.

One thing that was first on the chopping block was automating Tim and Matt Play, the hit YouTube let’s play I do with my friend, Tim. It ate up way too much of my time. From the setup to the tear down, to the editing, it was taking time I don’t have away for something that is purely a fun side project. I knew I could combine the audio and the video together initially if I just sat down and set it up. In addition to just having a final product done and ready for upload sans editing, I figured I could livestream this on Twitch as well. I changed my whole living room setup, too. It’s much more functional, clean, and organized. I also took some old PCs gathering dust in my parent’s basement to Frankenstein a PC dedicated to streaming so I wouldn’t have to involve my laptop in the setup process. It’s super old, and can’t stream at HD resolutions or do animated backgrounds, heck the processor is buckling even streaming what it does, but it works.

The final product now means I can stream from any of the consoles I have hooked up with the touch of a few buttons (this includes retro consoles hooked up through my Famemeister upscaler). I’ve created two templates for our show, 4:3 for retro stuff and 16:9 for modern stuff. I’ve also embedded chat into our videos for friends who stop by when we are streaming. I has been neat to see that happen.

The bonus byproduct of this has been Tim and Matt play has had a regular schedule for almost all of January (Thursdays at 8:30 PM). This has never happened. Another benefit is that I’ve learned OBS. This helped immensely as, for instance, if you needed to put together a livestream for an event at the last minute. So, this whole thing has been totally positive.

Grad School
Surprisingly, I have actually made inroads here as well. Part of what makes this so hard is getting back into the mental state of sitting down and studying. I totally lost my groove with that after graduation. This month, I’ve been focusing on getting my study mode back. My approach has been two fold. One, I learned that Duolingo had Japanese lessons, which I did not realize. So, I’ve been doing daily lessons in that for almost two solid weeks. It’s nice to be studying that language again, and not just Kanji flashcards, but actual grammar and vocabulary. Japanese is cool.

In addition to that, I’ve been reviewing some math. Not only is this necessary for the degree I want to pursue, but it is fun to see this stuff again. This was started by a video I watched on YouTube about the Fourier Transform. It might seem arbitrary, but the Fourier Transform was used so heavily in my later engineering classes that it put me back in that mindset.

From there I started watching his Essence of Linear Algebra series and breaking out my old textbooks to do some practice problems. He does a great job of representing geometrically the concepts covered in Linear Algebra. I’d like to tackle differential equations next. Isn’t math awesome?!?

Bonus
My final thing has been starting a real software project I’m doing for Indivisible. I’m approaching it as professionally as possible, and taking all the things I’ve learned from working in enterprise(ish) software development and applying it to my personal project. That means clear, well-commented, robust code. Not hacky, thrown together stuff. It also means source control and task management. Right now, I have remote git repos set up and a task management system established. I am actually making progress, too, which is awesome!

January has been exhausting. This has been a good exercise though as in hindsight it looks like I was able to get a lot done. Gotta keep it up!

On Why Limits are Important or Why I Miss Vine


I miss Vine. I probably miss it more than a person should miss a short lived social media platform that’s sole purpose was six second video loops. I guess I should clarify that I don’t miss the platform so much. There was nothing particularly remarkable about the app itself. I miss the creativity people found within the constraints.

Vine seemed to come out of nowhere and landed with a thud. People, including myself, were just like “What are we going to do with only six seconds?” At first most people did the predictable thing of recording of whatever was around them. Then people started to feel the edges and push against them. You would see loops that linked the end to the beginning. People started editing using selective pausing. Clever videos started to emerge and particular people started to shine through who really understood the medium.

Even though Vine was getting pretty good in in 2014, Snapchat started to gain more traction, Instagram introduced video (nine seconds!), and I think that combination sort of spelled the end of Vine. Even though there are numerous other platforms that can do everything Vine did and then some, not having those constraints hurt the final product.

Good comedy is hard. It’s not difficult to see this. Having done comedy for several years now, I can say that if pressed for criticism for a sketch or scene it’s usually some form of, “should have been shorter.” (Looking at you SNL) Length in and of itself does not a funny scene make, but distilling what the funny is down to its core and presenting that usually is a better result that extraneous exposition. One of my favorite quotes comes from ol’ Bill Shakespeare, “Brevity is the soul of wit.”

This is why almost all comedy produced by big Viners after Vine shuttered I don’t find particularly funny anymore. I don’t think the creators are inherently any less funny, but with YouTube or Instagram now being the target platforms, you don’t have any constraints in timing. This leads to sketches hammering a joke too many times, or scenes with loads of unneeded setup. I’m aware, with YouTube, longer videos are incentivized with advertisers, but it often loses all the funny in the process.

This is my long-winded way of saying, constraining yourself, even if artificially and being creative in that space is often a good way to get great results. Also, that I really miss Vine. If you would excuse me, I’m going to go and watch Vine compilation videos on YouTube and toast to a forgotten creative goldmine.

New and Improved Killer Tofu!


Welcome to the new and improved Killer Tofu! Yes, there is a little visual sprucing up. The old logo is back (I love that logo) and the site has a little more minimalist flair. It also works fantastically on mobile and tablets now, too. That is not the big news though. The back end is now changed! The part you don’t see a.k.a. everyone’s favorite part. I am proud of it, so strap in for a technical explanation on how things are different now.

To start off, I am now running my site off a VM (Virtual Machine) controlled entirely by me. That means I can choose what is updated, when, and have complete control of the customization. It’s far more work, but the result, for me at least, is better. I have the VM hosted through Digital Ocean, which I can’t recommend enough. I originally chose them because they would let me run a FreeBSD VM, but abandoned that idea. The VM is currently running Ubuntu 16.10 x64 which is the latest version of Ubuntu as of this writing.

This site runs on WordPress software, which was a choice I made a while ago, but since then has some major drawbacks. The prime downside is that it is written in PHP. PHP is an interpreted language and due to that is slow. When the page loads, the server must compile the page and then serve it to you. A thing I found out a little bit ago though is that Facebook is still written in PHP. Due to that, Facebook has written its own PHP interpreter called HHVM (HipHopVM) and open sourced it for anyone to download and use. This significantly speeds up page load times. This is great, but it also is not 100% compatible with all PHP in the wild. I wanted to have a fallback in case HHVM crashed. In this case I installed PHP 7.0 (newest version of official PHP as of this writing) and have it render the page in the event some code crashes HHVM. HHVM also comes back alive every 60 seconds if the process dies. This all happens automatically.

I changed out the web server portion, too. I originally was running Apache (well, *I* wasn’t, my hosting company was), but I wanted to switch to NGINX. It is supposed to be event driven and have a lower memory footprint, which is great for a smaller VM with not a ton of memory available. That took considerable configuration because I had never used NGINX before this and it has its own configuration styles and files.

In terms of database, this is the least improved, it’s just the latest version of MySQL. The old standby. Nothing much to talk about here. Still works great.

The last cool thing, is that now the site is secured with an SSL certification. Check the little green lock in the corner of your browser. When I was on my previous hosting site it would cost an additional $50/year to get an SSL cert. It’s all tied up in registration fees and all kinds of nonsense. With the web becoming increasingly less secure, any additional hardening of security is needed. This might just be a little, personal website, but I still wanted to secure login info and anything else like that. There is an organization now called Let’s Encrypt which allows anyone with the means to get a *free* SSL cert for their site. It’s awesome. They even developed a tool called Certbot that automates a lot of the process. If you put it as a cronjob it will automatically renew certs for you every 60-90 days and you won’t ever have to worry about replacing dead certs again. This seems mundane, but it’s so tedious, annoying, and expensive usually.

OK, OK. So, you’ve listened to me ramble. It’s just that I’ve been meaning to do this for years now, and to finally have it completed feels amazing. I learned a whole crazy amount and hope to use that for my next venture which is to write my own website CMS style engine to port around. That’s a whole different story though.

Hopefully this will cause me to update this thing more, but as this is my 1000+ time making that remark, I’m not going to hold my breath, and neither should you.