Hopscotch 2016 Bootcamp: Car Seat Headrest

I can’t get enough of Car Seat Headrest. Specifically, his 2016 release Teens of Denial. I’ve been calling this “emo for people that don’t like emo.” It’s frank and earnest without being cliche. When it’s sad, it’s not for sadness’ sake, it’s about how sadness can transform. At times it makes me think of Japandroid’s Celebration Rock. Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales is a standout and an easy intro to Car Seat Headrest. You will sing along.  My favorite is prob the 12-minute-ish The Ballad of the Consta Concordia where he deals with his mistakes and builds to a chorus of “I give up!”

Here’s some samples:

Hopscotch 2016 Bootcamp: Low-Hanging Fruit

I did some skimming and sampling of the 2016 lineup and found some solid songs from bands I’m looking forward to seeing.

Hopscotch 2016 Bootcamp: Let’s Talk About Sam

The wonderful Future Islands have appeared at Hopscotch a few times. Their shows are the stuff of legend. Samuel T. Herring is their amazing gruff-voiced front-man. If you’re not familiar, check them out on Letterman:

Future Islands formed at ECU and have played a lot of local shows, including an all-day party last year when they celebrated their 1,000th show.

Sam also fronts The Snails. A punk/ska/art rock kind of thing. The Snails will be making their Hopscotch debut this year. It looks like they put on a crazy live show:

Sam also raps under the name Hemlock Ernst. He’s collaborated with several hip hop acts, including *another* Hopscotch 2016 act, Milo (check out Souvenir by Milo, feat. Hemlock Ernst). So look for Sam this year – he may make some extra appearances.

The Snails’ Latest, Songs from the Shoebox:


Hopscotch 2016 Boot Camp: Getting Started

Hopscotch 2016 is right around the corner (sorta). Check the lineup and you’ll likely see some familiar artists, plus a bunch you’ve never heard of. Hopscotch is a wonderful way to discover new bands. But it does require you to do some up-front planning and a bit of homework. I’ll be posting here as I work out my plan for this year.

First – let’s take a look at some bands that are already known quantities. Some solid stuff here. Take a listen:

Managing WordPress Updates

With roughly 22% of new (and a total of over 46 million) sites built on WordPress, it has become a popular target of scripted hacks – programs that troll the internet in search of out-of-date versions of WordPress and its plugins. It has become increasingly important to keep your plugins and WordPress’ core files up-to-date.

But keeping things up-to-date can be tedious. And it’s easy to forget to check to see if updates are available for your sites. Let me keep track of your WordPress updates for you. For a small monthly fee, I will monitor your site and apply updates to WordPress and its plugins as needed – usually within 24 hours of updates becoming available (but often quicker than that). I’ll also perform daily incremental backups of your site and save them off-site (to Amazon’s S3 service), providing you with a route to restore your site should something happen.

In a nutshell, I’m doing something that you could be doing for yourself, but using tools to make the process much more efficient.

Some things that this service does not cover:

  • Sites that break when a new version of WordPress or a plugin are released. I very rarely have this happen and it’s something I don’t really have control over. Sometimes, a bit of extra work is involved to support new versions.
  • Fixing sites that *are* infected. I’ll be able to help you recover from a backup of your site (at my normal hourly rate), but I can’t guarantee that your site won’t be hacked. I *can* say that keeping code up-to-date is the best way to prevent problems. Keeping the code up-to-date is something you’d need to be doing anyway, I’m just doing it for you.
  • Updating premium plugins that don’t use WordPress’ default updater. Some plugins require a manual update. I can help you with these, too, but it would be at an increased price.

Interested? Questions? Contact me by form or phone.

It’s time we talked about your password problem

A password for your bank. A password for Facebook. A password for your Gmail account, your Twitter account, your Yelp account… It’s likely that you’ve got too many passwords to keep track of. And if you *are* trying to keep track of them, then you’re doing it wrong. If you’re using the same password for more than one site, you’re really doing it wrong.

You Need a Password Manager

Password managers keep track of your many passwords, encrypt them, and secure them with a single master password. That way you only have to keep track of a single password to access all of your others. A password manager will integrate with your web browser and automatically fill in your login credentials as-needed. Most password managers will also have an app that’ll run on your phone to help you access your saved passwords on-the-go.

I use LastPass

I’ve been using LastPass as my password manager since 2011. I’ve been very satisfied with it. I pay $1/month to have a “premium” account, which is what you need if you want to access LastPass from a mobile device. I have one long password (pass phrase) that I remember that will let me log in to LastPass to retrieve all of my other passwords.

Pick a Pass Phrase

For a password manager to work, you need one good secure password. It needs to be cryptographically strong. That means that you need to come up with something that’s easy for you to remember, but hard for a computer to guess. I find that it’s easiest to pick a sentence or a song lyric and replace some of the letters with punctuation. Easy options are substituting a 3 for an E or a 5 for an S. But the more creative you get, the stronger your pass phrase. You might end up with something like: sc0tt%5pa55w0rdLo0k5w3ird

Let LastPass Generate New Passwords

People are notoriously bad at picking strong passwords. Once you’ve got LastPass set up, let it pick your passwords for you. Let LastPass generate passwords like jsT%43iaUf&eJvS!YNkq. There’s no reason it should be something you can remember. And if you feel weird about not knowing your password, most sites will have an “I forgot my password” link to allow you to reset it.

But is it safe?

This is the question that I get asked the most when I start talking about password managers. What happens if LastPass gets hacked? LastPass (and their like) are security-focused companies. The chances of them being hacked are low. There are password managers that allow you to store your passwords locally on your own machine if that’s a concern for you. LastPass even includes a tool to automate selecting new, strong passwords for the sites you frequent. If you ever have a concern, it’s very easy to generate new, long, random passwords.

Something that’ll greatly increase your security is multi-factor authentication. I’ll cover this in a separate post, but, in a nutshell, this method requires more than one method to prove your identity. You may, for instance, have a fingerprint scanner on your laptop. If you’re using multi-factor authentication secured by your fingerprint, someone would have to know your password *and* have your fingerprint.


Google Street View

Back in April, I spotted the Google Street View car tailing me as I pulled into my neighborhood. As it passed my house, I hopped out and got ready to snap a pic as it made it’s return trip from the cul-de-sac at the end of my road. The driver paused for a sec to let me take a photo (with my Google Nexus One, incidentally).

Street View has recently updated with the new photos. I was captured in a couple of ’em. The last pic is one of me sitting on my sidewalk waiting for the car to return.


Q: Is that house next door to yours painted with cat poop?
A: I’m pretty sure it is. Cat poop is on the list approved by the HOA.

Q: Is your street name really that long?
A:  Yes. And Harps Mill Woods Run intersects with Harps Mill Woods Road. It’s a bunch of fun. It’s also printed on the road exactly as it appears in these photos.


Public Records & The Public Record

This is cool: On Friday, June 1st, during the Government Perspective panel at CityCamp Raleigh 2012, Charles Duncan Pardo at the Raleigh Public Record mentioned to Gail Roper, Raleigh’s CIO, that it’s difficult for the average person to figure out how to file a public records request.  A couple days later, RaleighNC.gov was updated with instructions for making such a request.

CityCamp Raleigh 2012 Recap

CityCamp Raleigh 2012 was a success due to the work of our awesome volunteer staff and the smart people that showed up, shared ideas and formed teams to help improve our city.

What Happened?

On Friday, we heard some great conversations about how opening up code, processes and data can improve life for all of us. Thought leaders spoke about these issues from the public/government perspective as well as from a business perspective. It was awesome to be in the room to hear these great conversations and the moderators did a great job of guiding the discussion. We even got to hear the beginnings of some interesting sharing of ideas between the cities of Raleigh and Cary.

Saturday kicked-off with one-minute presentations pitching ideas for workshops throughout the day. Attendees voted on their favorites and the most-supported topics were assigned to rooms throughout the day. We had 5 sessions with 5 workshops per session. Some of these were educational (What is Open Source?) some were the first meetings of groups that would form around a project in hopes of winning the $5000 prize on Sunday afternoon.

Sunday was for planning and coding. Groups started their work slowly at first, then at a frantic pace as we neared the 3pm presentation deadline. Ten distinct teams with 10 distinct ideas prepared marketing presentations and prototype applications.

At 3pm on Sunday, we gathered to hear 5-minute presentations from the teams followed by a short Q&A, after which the judges sequestered to vote for their favorite idea/project. We graded based on feasibility of the solution, creativity and presentation, and technological execution.

We Have a Winner!

The winning team was made up of CityCamp veterans, and students from a mobile development curriculum at NCSU. Their idea? A Raleigh greenway app called “RGreenway” that uses open data from the city to help you plan a visit to a greenway. The team’s vision for the app includes social features (Which greenway is great for new cyclists? Which one is swamped with strollers?) , integration with SeeClickFix to report issues, and features that’ll alert you to impending weather conditions.

Bury the Lead

My favorite story from the weekend is that CityCamp Raleigh was attended by Mayor Nancy McFarlane and all eight city councillors! Bonner Gaylord was an active part of the planning team, and Councillors Mary-Ann Baldwin and Russ Stevenson and the Mayor joined teams to develop ideas for Sunday’s presentations. Other councillors attended sessions and workshops throughout the weekend. I love how hands-on and committed Raleigh’s leadership is to the cause.

The Event and The Movement

Throughout the year, you’ll be hearing more from CityCamp Raleigh. Amazing things have happened in the past year and we’re continuing to pursue ideas to improve the live of Raleigh citizens through the use of technology. The best way to participate or to keep up with the discussion is to join our Facebook group.

Quickly deploy QR codes to link from real-world to web.

QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes. They’ve become popular recently as a way to link to web sites from real-world items like product packaging, magazine ads and “home for sale” signs. Scan a QR with your phone and you can instantly be linked to a web site. QR codes can store lots of other kinds of text info, too.

Several years ago at SXSW, I met Dustin Haisler, who at the time was CIO for the town of Manor, Texas. Dustin used QR codes to mark items around town to link visitors to additional information online. He had great success at opening up the actions of the local government without spending a lot of money.

Since meeting Dustin, I’ve had ideas rattling around in my head about doing something cool with QR codes. At last month’s CityCamp Raleigh, ideas and inspiration clicked together and it occurred to me that it’d be interesting to use QR codes as temporary advertisements/info markers. Short term, I’ve got two ideas I’m experimenting with:

  1. Helping a group called Five Points CSA, a community-supported agriculture (CSA) group based in the Five Points area of Raleigh. There was a group at CityCamp Raleigh that helped organized a social media plan for the CSA.
  2. Helping get the word out about citizen advisory council (CAC) meetings. CACs are Raleigh’s link between communities and our government.

The Basic Idea

The idea I came up with was to build a rig to allow me to quickly tag QR codes on walls or sidewalks. I did some research and found that someone did something along these lines at TED, but I couldn’t find any instructions or guidelines for creating tools. I ended up making a rig that can be used to spray QR codes on a flat surface. I use spray chalk to make the codes temporary. My prototype creates a QR that links to the Five Points CSA Facebook page. I used a URL redirect on the CityCamp Raleigh server so that I could point the link somewhere else if needed (say a Flickr group or another web page). Then I shortened the URL via bit.ly. I shortened it for two reasons: 1) bit.ly records usage statistics 2) shorter URLs make simpler QR codes.

Building the Rig

My QR rig is built from card stock. Card stock is relatively durable and easy to cut with an exacto knife. I’m working with someone to create a vinyl version that should be a bit more durable and allow me to spray the template clean. The magic sauce, I’ve found, is fiberglass screen. It’s just like the screen on the windows of your home. You can buy a roll of it from your local builder-supply shop for about five bucks. The screen gives you a base that you can attach the card stock to. This is important because it’s likely that your QR will have bits that aren’t attached to the main shape once you’ve cut them out.

I reversed the image of the QR before I cut it out. This is optional, but since I was cutting the image from black card stock, this just seemed to make my brain hurt less. I’d recommend using white card stock, though. That way, after you do your exacto-work, you can put a piece of black paper behind the cutout and check to make sure that it scans with your phone.

Next Steps

I’m and Android user. Google Goggles on my Nexus One scans my spray-chalked codes really quickly. I still don’t have a good test of scanability on iPhones, since I don’t have access to one. I’ve emailed photos of the code and the photos scan on an iPhone, but I still need to do some more real-world testing. It looks like the camera on iPhone 3’s and earlier is pretty crummy. But in this case, the iPhone is my Internet Explorer, so I’ll keep working on increasing the scanability for iPhones.

Lessons Learned So Far

  • QR codes are pretty forgiving. There’s a lot of error correction built into the code. This makes it work fairly well for my needs, but flat pavement or concrete works best.
  • The white border around the code is significant. It’s part of the code. I use a cardboard cut-out to put down a white section before I spray the code.
  • When you’re spraying – even if it’s chalk – you look like you’re up to no good.