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The $5 VPS

The $5 VPS is amazing. Sure, the specs you get for that five bucks has been stagnant for a few years now, with both Linode and DigitalOcean offering you 1 vCPU, 25 GB SSD and 1 TB of bandwidth. But it’s still a great deal.

I remember the dark days when I relied on ‘shared hosting’. With companies like A Small Orange offering just 500 MB of storage and 5 GB of bandwidth for $7/mo (and don’t worry that includes unlimited just one website). Or Dreamhost that offered unlimited everything for $3.95/mo! With 59.9999% uptime guaranteed!

A good VPS is the promised land in comparison. A little virtual box that you can do what you want with. And it’s surprisingly powerful. Each time I launch a new website I ponder whether it’s time to maybe spin up a new VPS for it. So I look at my Linode control panel and laugh at how little resources are being used. I mean I’m not exactly running video hosting services or anything like that. Just a dozen or so sites – mostly WordPress based – with a couple thousand hits a day. But I just find it hilarious that the CPU hovers at around 1.5%.

So here’s to you $5 VPS!

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The Apple Era

I realised something today. The world is riddled with complicated questions with even more complicated answers. And it can feel crippling at times. But when it comes to computers, phones, smart watches, smart headphones and tablets there’s a simple answer to the question of what to buy: Apple.

We’re living in the Apple era. The Apple brand is universal and unparalleled. Their output is by far the most innovative and beautiful. They’re so dominant that its rivals often seem laughable in comparison. And whilst in certain details they aren’t always the best, on the whole they are.

In fact I’m struggling to think of a single comparative company in history. All the ones that come to mind dominated through monopoly, isolation or acquirement of rivals, not through technical brilliance.

I’m no Apple cultist (half my blog posts feel like they’re moans about the minutiae of Apple’s latest ‘failings’) and I say all this not to gush. But I say it simply because it’s nice not to have to waste time and thought about the subject of what brand to buy. 9 times out of 10 – if I can afford it – Apple is the answer. So I’m free to spend my brain power elsewhere on unsolved issues like the perfect ratio of cheese to cracker.

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How will coronavirus effect…

  • the recreational drug market? Will cross border drug movement increase and how will production change?
  • dog ownership? Now is a good time to have a dog. From both the human and canine perspectives.
  • people with mental health issues? Being stuck indoors is going to massively alter even the mostly mentally strong.
  • climate change? Will the world start to focus on it more?
  • travel post-virus? Will there be a boom as people take on a carpe diem attitude in the years following coronavirus?
  • the number of children born? Couples don’t have a lot else to do.
  • long term success of school children? Will being essentially home schooled be good or bad for the education and development for this current crop of children?
  • advancement of technology? Will this be the final nail in the coffin of Moore’s law?
  • music, writing and other creative outputs? How much will free time increase them?
  • gym-based exercise? Will outdoor activities like running and cycling experience more than just a short term uptake as some people discover their joys and benefits for the first time?
  • the number of people who start ‘prepping’ and off grid living? At the very least I expect the average homes pantry and freezer size to increase post-virus.
  • conflict around the world? Will more than just a brief pause happen? Will many essentially fizzle out? Or will tensions actually increase?
  • society as a whole when so many elderly are likely to die? What will we lose?
  • future preparedness? Will this be treated as a dress rehearsal for potentially more devestating pandemics in the future or will it be treated as more of a final test unlikely to happen again this century?
  • minimum wage? Will ‘unskilled’ labour be more highly valued and appreciated going forward?
  • journalism? Will their perceived value in society increase due to the large coronavirus-based output and more people reading their (digital only) work?
  • air travel? Is this the end of budget airlines? Will airports and airlines be nationalised?
  • the quality of roads? Will governments take advantage of the lack of cars on the road and rebuild and update major motorways?
  • alchohol consumption? And how many new alcoholics will be created by citizens having no work, more anxiety and little else to do? As well as the chance for nightly drinking to become a habit.
  • dating and sex? Are new relationships totally on hold, or will pen-pal and video dating take over? Will single people desperate for sex help spread coronavirus? Will goverments ban one-night stands?
  • sleep patterns? With less work to wake up for will people become more in tune with their natural circadian rhythm?
  • the price of oil? How low will the per-barrel cost go?
  • divorces? Will they increase by as much as I expect?
  • will siblings grow closer or further apart?
  • traditional broadcast television? Will every channel just air reruns as they can no longer make new programming?
  • christmas? How many less presents will be under the tree at the end of 2020?
  • endangered animals? Will their numbers start to recover? Or as those who protect them disappear into their homes will poachers risk coronavirus infection for financial reward?
  • the restaurant industry? How many can actually wait out the financial storm?
  • sport? Will this just be a year unrecorded in sports history?
  • doctors and nurses long term? With so many potentially dying will there be a massive shortage over the next decade?
  • food consumption? Will it force the move to less intensive farming? How will vegans and meat eaters be effected differently?
  • the price of chickens? If eggs are hard to come by in supermarkets will people start selling their back garden chickens for thousands of pounds?
  • the flu long-term? Will peoples potentially better hygiene habits stop the flu being as dangerous as it once was?
  • remote working? Will it bring about a great change to the average office workplace?
  • the ability for women to get abortions?
  • air quality? Will the lack of cars make a massive long term difference?
  • gardens? With so much time on their hands will people decend upon their gardens for fresh air and start to pamper them into beautiful oblivion? Or will they become essential food growing areas and become like allotments?
  • drone deliveries? Will it finally become more than just a publicity stunt and actually be a viable delivery option?
  • domestic abuse? Many sufferers are now stuck in their homes with their abusers with no where to go.
  • economies world wide? Are we entering a decade long depression? How can poorer countries survive when they can’t borrow from other wealthier countries who have taken on massive debts themselves?
  • civil unrest? Will the national lockdowns go on so long that one day the public will have enough, spill onto the streets, and riot?

I have a lot of questions. But sadly not a lot of answers. We will just have to wait and see…

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Developers: Show Users What You’re Working On

Today I stumbled on the website for a blogging engine called Blot that I’d never heard of before. The general design of the site and the fact that it ‘turns a folder into a blog’ made me think it was probably created by some dude about five years ago and is now probably long abandoned.

But while it turns out that it is about five years old and is also made by just some dude it most certainly isn’t abandoned. Because after some more poking I found a really cool ‘news’ page. Essentially it’s a mirror of the developers to do list along with their recently completed tasks. It’s a simple but wonderful idea and does a great job of quietly broadcasting the hard work of the developer and signals to users that the service is still very much in development. I wish more services and software did something similar. And Blot itself looks cool. Check it out.

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Rishi Sunak’s 80% + Universal Basic Income

Today the UK declared the closure of cafes, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres. And to help the employees of the affected industries the Chancellor of the Exchequer – Rishi Sunak – announced that the government will pay 80% of their salary for the foreseeable future so that they neither lose their jobs or struggle too much financially. It’s a bold and expensive move that will cost the taxpayer hundreds of billions of pounds and take decades to pay off. But I think it’s the right move.

And after watching the press conference for these announcements I turned to my Mum and said that Rishi Sunak is the only high-level UK politician currently responding appropriately and sensibly during the coronavirus crisis. James Kirkup of the Spectator agrees:

In some ways, it’s easy and even important to keep Rishi Sunak’s performance in announcing his coronavirus job retention scheme in perspective. It should, after all, be pretty easy to be popular in politics when you are offering to spend literally limitless amounts of money protecting people from economic hardship. […]

But even taking those things into account, I still consider Sunak’s performance one of the most impressive I’ve seen from a British politician in more than 20 years in and around Westminster.


With so many governments helping out their citizens finanically at the moment universal basic income (UBI) has appeared in the news several times. I’m still unconvinced by some of the maths and theory behind UBI but I do wonder if the coronavirus crisis will be the catalyst for more UBI adoption worldwide in the same way that the catalyst for the UK’s universal health care – the NHS – was World War II.

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Seneca’s Morning Routine

Seneca's Morning Routine

I’ve been re-reading “Daily Rituals: How Great Minds Make Time, Find Inspiration, and Get to Work” recently. It’s a wonderful collection of the daily routines of some of historys most iconic people. One person not in the book though? The Stoic philosopher Seneca. So here’s his morning routine according to his Letter LXXXIII.

He begins his day with some exercise. Usually a run with his trainer/slave Pharius. Only for a small amount of time though because as an older man he “only has to stir and is weary.”

After that he takes a plunge into his cold swimming pool.

Next, it’s time for breakfast and he has the most uncomplicated one imaginable: bread. He likes its simplicity, rejoicing that he doesn’t even have to lay the table.

Fitness, food, and bathing taken care of he follows them up with a short nap.

His morning routine is now over and the rest of his day is “wholly divided between rest and reading.”

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Minor MacBook Pro Refresh

Apple has announced a slightly updated MacBook Pro.

Jason Snell (Six Colors):

These updates don’t bring any changes to the exterior of the MacBook Pro — it’s the same base design introduced in late 2016 — but they do bring 9th-generation Intel processors with up to eight cores to the MacBook Pro for the first time. There’s also been yet another tweak to the controversial butterfly keyboard Apple first introduced in 2015.

I’ve had to buy this (I went with the 15-inch base model). My mid-2012 MacBook Pro died a few months back and I’ve been waiting for an update to the lineup before biting the bullet. I was hoping for a whole new refresh with ARM chips. But that was always a little hopeful.

But the main reason I didn’t go out and buy a new one straightway is due to the unreliable butterfly keyboards on this current generation of MacBook Pro’s. I wasn’t waiting for a refresh for that sweet new industrial design. I was waiting simply because I wanted a keyboard that would work reliably.

This update does have an ‘updated’ keyboard though. John Gruber (Daring Fireball) has some info:

First, these new MacBook Pros still have the third-generation butterfly-switch keyboard that debuted with last July’s updated MacBook Pros. But Apple has changed the mechanism under the hood, using a new material for at least one of the components in these switches. The purpose of this change is specifically to increase the reliability of the keyboards. Apple emphasized to me their usual line that the “vast majority” of users have no problem with these keyboards, but they acknowledge that some users do and say they take it very seriously.

Fingers crossed that his update fixes a lot of the keyboard issues. But the simple, sad truth is this: a fancy MacBook Pro is being delivered to my house tomorrow and I’m more apprehensive than excited. Will this new machine last 6 years like my old one? We’ll see.

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12 Steps To Drink Well and Not Get a Hangover

I turned 27 this year. And almost overnight I started to get bad hangovers whenever I drank more than a beer or two. Gone were the years of my next day invincibility. So I’ve been forced to develop a system. It helps me. Maybe it can help you too, my fellow old people.

Step 1 – You might still feel like crap

Accept the fact that you’re going to have to slightly write off a day after drinking. Despite taking precautions there’s still a chance you might feel pretty rough the day after drinking. So don’t drink if you have to work the next day. Save it for those sacred days off.

Step 2 – You will get fat

You’re probably going to drink and eat 2000+ of excess calories on your drinking nights. Accept this.

Step 3 – Don’t start too late

You’ve had a long day of work. You get home late and now you just want to unwind and get plastered. Well, I wouldn’t. It’s bed time in just a few hours and that’s not enough time to get drunk and also take the necessary recovery steps for a hangover-free tomorrow. Save it for another day. A special day. A drinking day.

Step 4 – Learn to get less drunk

This meant seem silly, but after years of chasing the dragon your expectations of drunkenness and your ‘tolerance’ to booze has probably gone up. Spend some time getting in touch with the taste of alcohol again and the more subtle elements of its intoxicating effects. Spend a month or two every now and then just getting a little tipsy and not totally plastered. I’d recommend sticking to drinks that you really like the taste of so you can sip and savour the taste itself, not just its stuporing results.

Step 5 – Please line your stomach

Eat. Eat well. Eat a lot. And close to when you start drinking. I eat my meal 45 minutes before I begin imbibing. The first hour or so of drinking will feel a little too sober, but you’ll be thankful later. And trust me, you will still get drunk. So relax.

Step 6 – Track that booze

This might seem a little too OCD and geeky for some of you, but I recommend tracking how much you drink. I use the app Boozed?. You enter what you drink and it gives you an estimated BAC (learn about how BAC effects you).

Step 7 – Set Timers

Again, maybe a little too over the top. But this step is absolutely vital for me. In certain situations it can be very easy to drink too fast. For each drink (175ml wine, 500ml beer, or 50ml spirits) I set a countdown on my phone for 30 minutes (experiment until you find your correct timer length) and I’m not allowed to get another drink until the timer ends.

Step 8 – Drink water between drinks

I know this is an annoying step, but it’s an important one. Between every alcoholic drink consume 250-400ml of water to stay hydrated. This can be potentially harder to stick to if you’re not drinking at home. So if you’re in a club and you know you’re not going to be that guy asking for a tap water at the bar maybe drink a G&T and ask for extra tonic water instead to up the amount of non-alcoholic liquid you’re getting.

Step 9 – Skip that last drink, drink more water instead

So the night is winding down and bed/home time is approaching and its last order. Well don’t make that last order. That final drink might just push you into hangover territory and by the time the alcohol actually enters your bloodstream you’re probably going to be home or asleep anyway. So skip that last drink my friend and power down some water instead. And it’s better to drink that water now than just before bed anyway, otherwise you’ll be waking up to pee it out in the middle of the night.

Step 10 – Eat before bed

I generally try to keep it mildly healthy most of the time and will munch on a banana or two and maybe some mixed nuts. But let’s be honest here, that kebab looks bloody good. Either way, eat! If you have a choice between eating before or after drinking though always eat before.

Step 11 – Eat upon waking

Don’t skip breakfast please. And this isn’t time for your Instagram-worthy bowl of Chia seeds. Get some disgusting saturated fat down your gullet and feel sorry for yourself like you’re supposed to.

Step 12 – Accept that alcohol is very bad for you

This is my final step and my goodbye. Don’t be ignorant. Please accept that alcohol is very bad for you. It aids violence, mental illness, sexual promiscuity and sexual dysfunction (a cruel combination), over eating (until alcoholism takes ahold later in life and then you can barely stomach a slice of bread), a myriad of diseases and cancers, and is also expensive. So be like Winston Churchill and get more out of drinking than it gets out of you. Think alcoholism isn’t too much of a big deal? Here’s a reddit comment by an alcoholic describing his ailments due to drink.

More:

  • Drinking beer? Buy some non-alcoholic beer too and have one after every second alcoholic beer. Trick yourself into drinking less.
  • Some people swear by taking B-Vitamins before bed. I’ve never tried this though.
  • Maybe just don’t drink? If every time you drink you end up in trouble or you get hangovers after just three drinks maybe your hell raising days are over. Or maybe you have Gilbert’s syndrome or something.
  • Only drink with a sugar-free mixer. It gets you drunker and won’t give you full-blown diabetes.
  • Remember, you’re not a heavy drinker, you’re a pintman.

Note: Science doesn’t agree with a lot of my points. We still don’t know how to cure hangovers. The only really proven way to feel better the next day is to quite simply drink less. So a lot of my steps are pseudoscience at best. But hey, it works for me. Try it and then email me with your results.

I’ll leave you with this advice by Christopher Hitchens on drinking:

[…] Of course, watching the clock for the start-time is probably a bad sign, but here are some simple pieces of advice for the young. Don’t drink on an empty stomach: the main point of the refreshment is the enhancement of food. Don’t drink if you have the blues: it’s a junk cure. Drink when you are in a good mood. Cheap booze is a false economy. It’s not true that you shouldn’t drink alone: these can be the happiest glasses you ever drain. Hangovers are another bad sign, and you should not expect to be believed if you take refuge in saying you can’t properly remember last night. (If you really don’t remember, that’s an even worse sign.) Avoid all narcotics: these make you more boring rather than less and are not designed—as are the grape and the grain—to enliven company. Be careful about up-grading too far to single malt Scotch: when you are voyaging in rough countries it won’t be easily available. Never even think about driving a car if you have taken a drop. […]

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Remembering Podcasts

Podcasts have a big problem: remembering them. Many of the podcasts I follow are overflowing with ideas, knowledge and references that I will almost certainly never remember to look into further.

A big reason for this is because like a lot of people I listen to podcasts in the background whilst doing something else. 95% of my podcast listening time is spent whilst I’m either walking, running, driving or trying to sleep. Basically times when it’s not appropriate to whip out my phone and start writing things in my notes app like ‘look up BBC news article about bees in South African plane’s engine that delayed flights’. It’s too much hassle. The most I manage to do is take a quick screenshot which lists the show, episode and timestamp. But then my phone just becomes full of screenshots and I can never be bothered to re-download the episode, find the correct spot, listen to it again and then finally do the research. I just don’t bother.

I can hear you shouting “show notes!”. True, show notes are very handy and thankfully more and more podcasts do them now. But I still have to go to their website, find the episode, and then seek out the correct section. Again, I just don’t bother.

Here’s want I want. It’s simple we kill the batman. I want my podcast player of choice (Overcast) to have an easily accessible bookmark button. In an ideal world it would then grab the audio starting from 1 minute before and 1 minute after and then email it to me, or import it into Evernote or something. But I’d settle for a ‘bookmark’ section in the app which lists all podcast episodes with bookmarks then lets you skip through the them. That feature would make listening to podcasts a lot more productive for me. Episodes wouldn’t just come and go. I could sit in front of a computer, browse through the bookmarks, and do the appropriate research.


Now that I’ve written this I just realised that I’ve blindly been using Overcast for many years now and maybe there’s an app out there that already does this? To the App Store!

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I Put My Dad on Linux and Everything Went Fine

Oh the joys of giving tech support to your parents for their crappy computer. I suffered for years with this and so did my poor Dad. It was the classic cheap PC + Windows combo of pain. The laptop display looked like it was 512 × 342 and it lost an average of one keycap a month. And then there was the usual Windows woes. Slowness, old school viruses, antivirus viruses, free-to-play games inexplicably downloaded to the desktop and about seven AskJeeves toolbars. Pure misery. So when the laptop finally died and my Dad came to me for advice about a replacement I knew a better solution was needed.

I quickly recommended going the desktop route over a laptop since my Dad nearly always worked at his desk and a desktop would last a lot longer. We could have picked up a pre-built machine, but I knew buying the parts and building a desktop myself would be cheaper, offer more spec flexibility and be a lot more reliable. Plus if something did break I could probably quickly and easily fix it by replacing the dead part (and not the whole machine!).

I went with a Silverstone Mini-ITX case (in white, which pleased Mum as it blended in nicely with the study decor), Intel Pentium Dual Core G3258, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 120GB SSD, MSI LGA1150 motherboard and a 300W Be Quiet! power supply. Total cost: £240.

Next came the OS. There was no way I was going to give Microsoft £80 for a copy of Windows and a lifetime of headaches. So I thought ‘why not Linux?’. It might seem bizarre, but it’s a near perfect OS for someone like my Dad. He’s far less likely to download a virus, Linux doesn’t bother him with popups, it’s easier to keep the same UI for many years (no forced Windows software updates and ‘visual refreshes’), and his computer will still be blazing fast five years from now. And he doesn’t use Adobe Lightroom or Microsoft Excel, his needs are simple, all he wants is a web browser and a word processor. Linux gives him that easily.

There’s lots of Linux distributions out there of course and at first I looked into ones that mirror his old Windows 7 desktop as much as possible. But they also often copied some of the bad and confusing elements too. So in the end I just settled on Ubuntu with the Unity desktop. It’s simple, with a nice large dock to the left.

His new desktop. Minimalistic with just four buttons that he knows as ‘search, documents, internet, and Word’.

However this was all good in theory and on paper, but how would this system and Dad get on in reality? Well it’s been over two years now and there has been literally zero problems. Honestly. Even the wireless printer works flawlessly. It did take him a little while to get used to the Ubuntu file browser. But now he knows to just save everything in Dropbox and click on that folder or Downloads when wants to find something. But aside from that the transition went swimmingly. We get a lot of power cuts and both the hardware and software have even dealt with that (somehow) without issue. The only maintenance I do is run sudo apt-get update every now and then.

I expect this machine will serve him loyally and reliably for many years to come. Thanks Linux.