The eli4d Gazette – Issue 066: GitHub’s FREE private repos, Neat 2019 Tech Conferences, and the Amazingly Written “Leviathan Wakes”

GitHub announces unlimited free private repos

GitHub is the standard when it comes to Git based source control management.

Up to now, you could get a free account as long as your code was publicly viewable. While this has been great for public facing open source projects, it was problematic for those that wanted private source repositories (aka ‘repos’). A viable free private repo alternative has been Atlassian’s Bitbucket.

GitHub has recently announced unlimited free private repos. This change is great for anyone who wants to experiment around with some code without exposing their cruft out in public.

Some folks have lamented that now there will be many personal projects that will be locked away in private repos and that takes away valuable code that could be “out there.” While I understand this objection, I think it’s somewhat questionable. Every developer has the right to determine what is crappy code and what isn’t, and whether s/he is comfortable publishing it. After all, once something is public on the internet, it’s there forever.

Before GitHub’s change, Bitbucket was already used for private repos – so what exactly has changed? Am I to understand that Bitbucket’s free private repo feature was so secret that no developer ever used it? Or perhaps developers were too lazy to switch from GitHub to Bitbucket for personal projects?

Some interesting conferences from Delicious Brains

Delicious Brains is a WordPress company that develops high-end plug-ins for WordPress developers. They have a really nice development blog.

In a recent blog entry, they had a comprehensive listing of upcoming JavaScript, WordPress, CSS, UX, Tech and PHP conferences:

Just Finished Reading

I just finished reading Leviathan Wakes which is the first book from The Expanse Series. This was an amazingly well-written book covering the near future. In all honesty, no amount of words can express how well written this book is so I’ll pick three sentences that scratch the surface of this writing:

Here is a description of a space ship…can you see the image?

Three-quarters of a kilometer long, a quarter of a kilometer wide—roughly shaped like a fire hydrant—and mostly empty space inside, the Canterbury was a retooled colony transport.

What about these sentences?

Seven years in Earth’s navy, five years working in space with civilians, and he’d never gotten used to the long, thin, improbable bones of Belters. A childhood spent in gravity shaped the way he saw things forever.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 043

Tech Pick

Have you ever had to build a documentation website? It’s certainly a pain if you do it from scratch. You could use something like Google Sites, but that’s not so professional besides the Google product graveyard possibility. So what can you do?

There are many static site generators but how well are these particular projects maintained? Also, since they’re generalized tools – a particular generator may not fit the requirements of a documentation website (like the need for translations).

Some fine open source engineers at Facebook have created Docusaurus – a site generation tool that is geared for the creation and maintenance of documentation websites. The motivation for Docusaurus and how the tool can be updated without breaking an already created site can be found in the first blog posting.

With Facebook’s use of Docusaurus for its open source projects this is a tool that is likely to be maintained and enhanced over time.

Media Pick

Lots of web application and website development centers around API development (and this is becoming more of a norm). Content management systems like WordPress are de-coupling the backend (i.e. database) from their frontend using APIs (WordPress’s API info can be found here: This allows web applications/sites to create customized front-ends that are more customized to the application’s purpose and it allows for future expansion of the application’s data (for example a mobile app that needs to use the site’s database). To communicate to API endpoint a particular “language” needs to be spoken by both client (for example web browser) and server. This is where REST and GraphQL come in.

A recent episode of the podcast explains GraphQL (another Facebook open source effort) and how it’s likely to replace REST. It’s a great episode for both beginners and experts, and the show notes are fantastic.

My recent Holiday Review

If you’re looking for battle-tested products and services/products to avoid (i.e. CrashPlan, Drobo, O’Reilly Media), then check out my 2017 Holiday Review.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter

Holiday Recommendations/Reviews – 2017


Season’s greetings – I hope you are doing well. This post is a retrospective on items that have been battle tested through my regular use. While there are many more products and services to review, I’ve tried to keep this review to 3 items in each category.

Rating terminology: Naughty/Bad (👎) or Nice/Good (👍): Using Christmas terminology for distinguishing those things that were awful (in my experience) from those things that were great.

On a non-related note – think back to the past year:

  • Did you use Wikipedia? What if Wikipedia had ads on every page…would that have made it better? If you’ve used Wikipedia in any way, then please consider donating to this great resource.

  • What about the Wayback Machine – have you used it to look up old content or find the content of a website that no longer exists? If so – consider donating to this great resource.

Disclaimer note: Please remember that the usual disclaimer applies – these are just my opinions. One person’s 👎 is another person’s 👍.

👍👍👍 Podcast Recommendations

There are way too many podcasts to mention. These are my some of my favorites for this year which you might find interesting.

👍Nice List aka Good List

This is the good list. I’m not sure what else can be said about it.

👍Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard

I originally heard about the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic keyboard from a Marco Arment review. Marco’s review covers the pros/cons of this keyboard. I’ve been using it for more than a year at work, and it’s so good that I bought another one for home. The only annoyance with this keyboard is the need to use the Fn switch to activate function keys. While an inconvenience, the ergonomic position combined with the feel of the keys make this keyboard great for home and work use.

As usual – if you have RSI issues please consult with your doctor to determine if this keyboard would help or hurt you.

👍Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard

👍 Instant Pot DUO80 8 QT

Imagine a pressure cooker that is programmable for both pressure and time. No more watching a pot on the stove, and wondering if it might explode. No imagination needed anymore – check out the Instant Pot (mine was the Instant DUO80). I was extremely skeptical when a friend recommended this device. I can’t even quite believe that I’m talking about it this much.

While there are many types of foods and recipes for the Instant Pot, I find it useful for the most ridiculously mundane “cooking”:

  • Cooking hard-boiled eggs (across any softness level) that are a perfectly easy to peel. This is the recipe that explains why the peeling is so easy and how to do it: “Pressure Cooker Eggs”
  • Cooking perfectly steamed vegetables in 0 minutes (after reaching pressure). Whether it’s a head of broccoli or cauliflower – it’s just 1 cup of water and 0 minutes in the steam setting. Of course it takes more than 0 minutes since the pressure has to build up, but once the InstantPot comes to pressure, the vegetables are perfectly steamed and it’s a matter of releasing pressure, putting butter and demolishing the awesomeness.

Excellent recipe sites:

👍 Instant Pot DUO80 8 QT

👍 CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder

My wife happened to see some contractors use a magical magnetic device that could easily find studs. She took a photo of it, and I found it on Amazon. The CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder is AMAZING. Really…I’ve used electronic ones and all kinds of crappy magnetic imitations. This is the one. It’s pretty much a no-brainer for eight dollars. The form factor in conjunction with this device’s powerful magnets works extremely well.

👍 CH Hanson 03040 Magnetic Stud Finder

Naughty aka Bad List

For this list, I can’t help but provide multiple emojis to express how bad something is. I suppose that it’s the human condition that we barely remember the good, but we remember the bad in extreme detail.

👎👎👎👎👎 Drobo – Bad hardware from initial purchase resulting in FIVE exchanges

I originally bought a Drobo 5N in 2016 during a Black Friday sale. I specifically choose the Drobo because a friend always spoke highly of his Drobo 5D.

I did not have a chance to configure the Drobo until the middle of 2017 (life took over). From the first moment that I plugged the Drobo 5N into power and ethernet it was a non-stop 👎 show. My return history:

  1. The initial unit I purchased didn’t work so I opened a ticket with support and they asked me to get a replacement unit.
  2. I got a replacement 5N and it didn’t work either.
  3. Another back and forth with support and I got another replacement unit (3rd unit). This one failed to work, so I asked Drobo support if I could get a Drobo 5D since it was an older product line that might be more reliable (at least that was my thinking)
  4. I got a Drobo 5D as an exchange unit and once again this one didn’t work either.
  5. Another exchange with support and now I’m on my second 5D (and 5th Drobo device)

The current 5D is still running (it’s been about three months). I feel like I should have a website with a count-up clock that says “It has been ___ days and Drobo 5D serial abc123 is still working”. Drobo has been a stunning disappointment, and I would never touch one with a thirty-nine and a half foot pole. I can’t trust this device to hold any data, and I’m not sure what to do with it even if it is currently working.

The only good thing about Drobo Inc. is their support group. The support folks were great (multiple gold stars to Valorie). They went out of their way to do the best that they could with a crappy situation. They even gave me an additional three years of Drobo Care to provide some reassurance.

The problem is that I can’t trust Drobo’s devices. My current Drobo 5D is just a large electronic paperweight. It’s got green lights, so I suppose that it’s useful for Christmas.

👎👎👎👎👎 Drobo - Bad hardware from initial purchase resulting in FIVE exchanges

👎👎👎👎 O’Reilly’s Departure from DRM Free Technical Books 💔

It saddens me that the company that most promoted DRM free books (see picture below and is the one to exit out. I’ve written extensively about O’Reilly’s departures from DRM free technical books and what to do about it:

👎👎👎👎 O'Reilly's Departure from DRM Free Technical Books 💔

👎👎👎 Backup Service – CrashPlan and Code 42 Dumping its Customers

As a loyal CrashPlan customer I find it difficult to find anything positive about the company’s dropping of its consumer clients. I have used CrashPlan to backup my home computers for years, and the option to use their client to backup to local machines (without going to CrashPlan’s servers) has been great.

While I’ll give the company credit for giving plenty of notice about this change, there is much to be desired in terms of migration off Crashplan:

  • CrashPlan (of course) tries to steer its consumer clientele to its “Small Business” plan. There are 2 problems with this:
    1. The plan is much more expensive than the consumer plan
    2. This supposedly ‘better’ business plan does not have the local machine client capability. So you’re losing features and paying more.
  • If you decided to migrate to their suggested option 2 company – Carbonite – you quickly find out there THERE IS NO MIGRATION CAPABILITY. This means that none of your current backups (and all the versions going back in time) can be moved to Carbonite. So it’s really no different than starting over with any new backup provider – whether it’s Carbonite, Backblaze, or anyone else. I can only venture to guess that CrashPlan’s recommendation of Carbonite is there because they get affiliate type of revenue for steering customers there. So once again – a gain for Crashplan and a loss for the consumer.

For all of the above reasons, I cannot recommend CrashPlan in any way to anyone. This, of course, carries forward to any employers I work for and any businesses I encounter. Code 42 (CrashPlan’s parent company) has a right to ‘pivot’ any way that it wants as much as I have a right to pivot away from any of Code 42’s products. The lack of a migration path for its customer backups is unconscionable.

👎👎👎 Backup Service - CrashPlan and Code 42 Dumping its Customers

👎 Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand

I rarely return items to Amazon, but the Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand was very disappointing. My original intent was to have a portable sort of standing desk option. The steel construction components are very solid. The problem was the locking latches. With somewhat little force, the laptop would easily ‘sink’ downwards when slight pressure was applied to the laptop.

As usually – this is just my opinion about this product. Your mileage may vary.

👎 Samson LTS50 Laptop Stand

All Time Favorites

👍👍👍 Love & Logic Framework to dealing with Children

I am far away from being the parent of the year. However, I have found the Love & Logic framework to be extremely helpful as my kid has gone through various ages and stages. I always recommend these materials to any new parents, and I have found the early-childhood information to be very helpful.

👍👍👍 Love & Logic Framework to dealing with Children

👍👍👍 Kindle Voyage

The Kindle Voyage has been a tremendous boon to my reading. I’ve read so many more books since I bought it (as in a magnitude increase). The e-ink is great with the fantastic lighting. I have also found tons of great sci-fi books on the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (I highly recommend the Frontiers Saga by Ryk Brown).

👍👍👍 Kindle Voyage

👍👍👍 Portable Stand Laptop Holder

A favorite that has survived 2017 (I get questions about it in coffee shops all the time). Note that this item is now out of stock. A compelling alternative might be this other stand (though I have not personally tested it).

From my 2016 review:

I’ll admit that the “Superbpag Multi-angle Non-slip Portable Stand Holder Laptop Stand For iPad 2 3 4 Air Mini Retina Tablet and Most Laptop” looks ridiculously chintzy on Amazon’s site. And yet they work ridiculously well in terms of size, weight, and resilience. They also bring some semblance of ergonomics to laptop use in a coffee shop (assuming you have a keyboard of course).

👍👍👍 Portable Stand Laptop Holder

👍👍👍 iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

Another survivor through 2017. I don’t know what iBenzer did for the keyboard cover, but it’s amazing – no curling or tearing whatsoever. I can’t speak for any of their other products, but this one is terrific.

From my 2016 review:

The *iBenzer Soft-Touch Series Plastic Hard Case is a light and protective cover for your Macbook. While the cover is great, my biggest surprise was the keyboard cover. The keyboard cover has been very resilient and it does not curl like Kuzy covers (which I’ve previously owned). iBenzer does a great job in both the case and the keyboard cover.*

Note: Make sure to ****exactly match**** you Macbook’s model to the case since there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to these sort of cases and keyboard covers.

👍👍👍 iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook


I hope this review is helpful. I wish you a healthy and safe holiday 🎁 season and a great new year.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know via @eli4d on Twitter.

Holiday Recommendations/Reviews – 2016


This post is inspired by this week’s Release Notes podcast that focused on holiday recommendations. I like this retrospective on items that have been battle tested through regular use. My focus will be on podcasts, iOS apps, Mac apps and some physical items. This will be a quick, broad sweep across many things that I’ve wanted to review/mention for a while but never had time.

Some Quick Notes

Holiday note: I wish you and yours a safe an happy holiday season. I’ll be back with new articles towards the end of January 2017.

Wikipedia note: Think back to the past year. Did you use Wikipedia? What if Wikipedia had ads on every page…would that have made it better? If you’ve used Wikipedia in any way, then please consider donating to this great site.

Disclaimer note: Please remember that the usual disclaimer applies – these are just my opinions.

Podcast Recommendations

I’ve decided to limit these recommendations to only 3 podcasts (my list of podcasts is way too long). These are my absolute favorites for this year and you might find them interesting.

iOS App Recommendations

These are my home screen worthy apps. You might also find them to be useful.

Overcast – the best podcast player

I’ll admit that saying “the best” is somewhat of a ridiculous thing (in the same way that many articles start with ‘finally‘), but I really really like the Overcast podcast player. Its smart speed is amazing at saving time and listening to more podcasts.

Overcast - the best podcast player

Audible – audio books, audio clips and button free awesomeness

I’ve started a new experiment in shifting half of my listening to audio books and half to podcasts (from %100 podcasts). My goal is to read more (whether through actual reading or audio books). I’ve subscribed to Amazon’s Audible service and I’ve found the Audible app to be ridiculously great. The ability to save and share audio clips is very well done and its best feature is the ‘Button-Free’ view through which an audio book can be controlled through tactile interface only.

Audible - audio books, audio clips and button free awesomeness

Due – quick reminders that are not worth putting in your todo app

I first heard about Due through a John Gruber post. John described Due as “a convenient, low-friction way to set short-term reminders and timers. Sort of like *Pester but for iPhone. Focused and thoughtful design”*. And Due does live up to John’s description (as does Due 2.0).

Due’s website describes its purpose best when it says that it is a “place where all mundane but important reminders can go.” Examples:

  • Before school put sun tan lotion on child (and maybe yourself too)
  • Take vitamins before leaving house
  • Go to Costco after work

Note: A second runner-up is Alarmed.

Due - quick reminders that are not worth putting in your todo app

Soulver – best un-spreadsheet spreadsheet program

I’ve been using Soulver on my iPhone for a long time. Whether it’s for a quick calculation or a weekly money-envelope tracking of my coffee habit – soulver is there to help me out. I also purchased the Mac version of the app which allows me to use it to keep Soulver sheets via iCloud.

I’ve also used it in complex budget tracking at work. While Excel grinds numbers into baby food, Soulver lets me see the bigger picture.

Soulver - best un-spreadsheet spreadsheet program

GoodReader – the swiss army knife of PDF and pdf-like things

I’ve mentioned GoodReader before. Its primary strength is PDF annotation but it also can play mp3 audio with the niceties of repeat loops (like when you child likes that 1 song that they want repeated over and over and over again), and specific sequences. It certainly gives PDFpen a run for its money and in my experience it has also been more stable (besides better pricing).

GoodReader - the swiss army knife of PDF and pdf-like things

Pedometer++ – great step-tracking for that 10,000 steps per day goal

There’s not much to say about Pedometer++. It does one thing and it does it very well – tracking steps. You can set a certain step goal which triggers green confetti (and double the goal step count triggers blue confetti). I know this sounds like the most ridiculous thing but it’s a reward that works well from a habit loop perspective.

Pedometer++ - great step-tracking for that 10,000 steps per day goal

Instapaper – the read anything anywhere app

I’ve used Instapaper for many years to read interesting articles that I’ve come across. I can save most web pages to be read later via Instapaper. One cool feature is that you are given a unique email address where you can send articles. This email can be used to subscribe to interesting newsletters. This way – newsletters end up right on Instapaper and can be read anywhere.

Marco Arment was its original creator and it has gone through several owners. The current owner is Pinerest who has made all its features freely available. I don’t know if this is a short-term thing. Hopefully not but time will tell. It is certainly worth trying for the price (FREE).

Instapaper - the read anything anywhere app

Glympse – like a time limited version of Find-my-Friends

Have you ever wanted to let someone know where you are or better yet – see where you are? Glympse is your solution. Whether it’s letting your spouse know where you are, or whether it is letting a friend know your location – Glympse is great in that you can set:

  • temporary visibility for your location (you can set a default of 1 hour, for example, so any ‘Glympses’ that you send will automatically expire)
  • set favorites for frequent contacts

While Apple’s Find My Friends feature is very useful, it misses one important point: your friends don’t need to know where you are all of the time. Sure you could turn it off after an activity but who does that.

Glympse - like a time limited version of Find-my-Friends

True Weight – a beautiful and simple average weight tracker

From an app perspective, I consider True Weight to be ‘perfect’ in the way it addresses the topic of weight tracking. The only issue is that it hasn’t been updated since 2013 and iOS 10 occasionally puts up a dialog of “this app may slowdown your iPhone”. Nevertheless it is a great app which I intend to use until it is obsoleted by the iPhone’s operating system.

I’ve recently searched for alternatives but they all have fallen short due to either poor UI or friction filled usage issues.

Daily Workouts – quick exercise routines that make sense

I have owned some adjustable dumbbells for a long time. I wanted a simple routine and it took me a while to find Daily Workouts (the amount of crappy exercise apps is mind boggling). The app provides you with a variety of workout that contain 10 exercises per workout. You can also choose a random workout or a custom one where you set the 10 exercises that you want.

I found it worthwhile to get the full blown version for $9.99. It plays well on the iPhone and even better on the iPad.

Daily Workouts - quick exercise routines that make sense

Mac App Recommendations

Beyond the standard macOS apps (Mail, etc..), these are apps that are dock worth.

Alinof TimerPro – countdown timer extraordinaire

Whether I’m using the Pomodoro technique, some other timeboxing technique, the 2-minute GTD inbox rule or something else requiring a countdown timer – Alinof TimerPro is perfect in providing multiple countdown timers that can stay in the background or be visible on the screen. There are lots (and lots) of crappy timers out there but I’ve found Alinof to be the best (so far).

Alinof TimerPro - countdown timer extraordinaire

Marked 2 – If you’re using Markdown then you need this Mac app

I wont go into the terrific simplicity John Gruber‘s Markdown. If you’re a Markdown practitioner then you need Marked 2. It works with any editor and it provides a realtime preview of Markdown’s output. It also has a variety of options and themes as well as export options.

Marked 2 - If you're using Markdown then you need this Mac app

Clarify 2 – stories through screenshots

Clarify allows for the creation of excellent documentation through pictures and words. If you need to convey information in a clear and visual way then you’ll find that Clarify is worth every penny. It has many export options but I’ve found its Markdown export capability to be veyr powerful.

Clarify 2 - stories through screenshots

Hardware-ish Products

In reflecting over the past year and looking over my Amazon purchases I found a few products that have withstood daily use and abuse.

Note: I have Amazon affiliate links for these products.

Koss KSC32B Fitclips Headphones

I’m not sure why Koss decided to market these headphones to women but they work well for men too. In fact, these headphones work well for anyone with ears 🙂 .

Koss KSC32B Fitclips Headphones

No Stress Chess

This chess set is great for any child that is 5 years or older. It really takes out the stress of teaching chess. If you child can pick up a playing card, then they can play No Stress Chess.

No Stress Chess

Portable Stand Laptop Holder

I’ll admit that the “Superbpag Multi-angle Non-slip Portable Stand Holder Laptop Stand For iPad 2 3 4 Air Mini Retina Tablet and Most Laptop” looks ridiculously chintzy on Amazon’s site. And yet they work ridiculously well in terms of size, weight, and resilience. They also bring some semblance of ergonomics to laptop use in a coffee shop (assuming you have a keyboard of course).

Portable Stand Laptop Holder

iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

The iBenzer Soft-Touch Series Plastic Hard Case is a light and protective cover for your Macbook. While the cover is great, my biggest surprise was the keyboard cover. The keyboard cover has been very resilient and it does not curl like Kuzy covers (which I’ve previously owned). iBenzer does a great job in both the case and the keyboard cover.

Note: Make sure to exactly match you Macbook’s model to the case since there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to these sort of cases and keyboard covers.

iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook


I hope this app/hardware retrospective is helpful. I wish you a healthy and safe holiday season and a great new year.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know via @eli4d on Twitter.

The eli4d Gazette – Issue 020

Issue 020: 2016-12-08

Tech Pick

The app economy is an evolving beast. In a recent episode of the Release Notes Charles and Joe interview Macpaw’s founder about a new consumer/developer service called Setapp. It’s a subscription-based approach to Mac applications. The idea is that as a consumer you pay $9.99 per month, and you have access to high-quality Mac applications without any restrictions (i.e. no ‘lite’ versions). Developers get paid on a recurring basis (based on app usage) while consumers get a decent value for their money without the “why does this app have a subscription now?” question popping up into their minds.

I’ve subscribed to the beta program (which is free until March 2017), and I have to say that it is a well-executed service. The usage experience is almost identical to the Mac app store with a clean and clear interface. Macpaw’s goal is to have 300 quality applications (I’m not sure of their exact definition of ‘quality’). Right now, the beta contains around 50 apps and right off the bat I’ve installed iStat Menus, Clean My Mac 3, and Ulysses.

Is this a future trend that Apple will adopt across its App stores? Does this approach provide a sustainable living for Indie developers? Maybe and then again maybe not. Some interesting viewpoints:

Media Pick

A short and excellent episode from the Imaginary Worlds podcast about The Man in the High Castle. It is a great Amazon produced series based on Phillip K. Dick’s book. In this episode, Eric Molinsky speaks to the producers of the show on their production approach and intent.

More Recent Articles

PS: Due to the upcoming holidays – I will not be publishing any issues until middle/end of January 2017. I wish you a great holiday season.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter

A Quick Review of Installing and Connecting an Amazon Dot to a Belkin WeMo Smart Plug Switch


In this article, I quickly cover my recent experience in installing and configuring an Amazon Dot with a Wemo Smart Plug.

It begins with a Black Friday sale

Ok…I’m a sucker for techy/geeky sales.

The problem (granted first world problem): I’ve had three lamps in my office which I’ve had on a timer for a very long time. The timer has been useful from an energy efficiency point of view, but it wasn’t ideal. I thought that a better solution would be to be able to turn the lights on/off via Alex. So when I saw the Amazon Dot and Belkin Wemo Smart Plug for sale – I hopped on that deal.

It begins with a Black Friday sale

I’ll admit that I had significant hesitation in buying a Belkin product

I’ve never heard really good things about Belkin products. And this was confirmed when looking at the WeMo reviews as well as Belkin in general. So while the Amazon Dot was a no-brainer in terms of purchase, the Belkin Wemo gave me significant pause. Without the $10 reduction in price, I wouldn’t have bought it.

The Amazon reviews of the WeMo Switch

Almost 5,000 reviews where 22% were 1 star. Granted the top review was a 1 star from 2013 – looking at the rest of 1-star reviews showed significant connectivity issues.

The Amazon reviews of the WeMo Switch

Belkin the company

Belkin, as a company, does not fare much better.

Belkin the company

Installing the Amazon Dot

The installation of the Amazon Dot was “easy breezy.” Granted – I’ve installed it’s bigger sibling so maybe it’s my familiarity.

Installing the Amazon Dot

Installing the Belkin WeMo Switch

Like the stories of other WeMo users – installation was not as smooth as the Amazon Dot.

The WeMo Quick Install Guide

The WeMo switch comes with a quick install guide. The how to geek site describes the instructions (though in much better detail). I followed the instructions, downloading the WeMo iOS app, connecting it to the switch initially, and then configuring a wifi network for the switch (MAC based access to no password needed). At this point, it looked like the WeMo app was reconnecting to the WeMo Switch via my wifi network but then nothing. It kept trying to connect but no connection was established – so I could not see (and control) my WeMo Switch through the app (i.e. so nothing like the picture that you see below).

The WeMo Quick Install Guide

I did lots of searches for what to do next

I’m a techie, but I found it difficult to find reset instructions.

I did lots of searches for what to do next

Getting support from Belkin

When I initially looked through Belkin’s side – “premium support” popped up, so I kept looking around. I didn’t even see the “please call 877-318-6620” that I now see on the support page.

Getting support from Belkin

Getting instructions to reset WeMo Switch

When searching for reset instructions for the WeMo Switch, I found lots of instructions for the WeMo Light Switch (i.e. the wall switch) rather the the plug-in switch. Looking on Belkin’s site was of no help even using their actual product name – “WeMo Switch Smart Plug.”

Getting instructions to reset WeMo Switch

I finally found reset instruction at…

I finally found reset instructions at:

I finally found reset instruction at...

But the reset instructions were confusing

So the above instructions say to hold down the “Restore button (labeled on top).” I stumbled on a YouTube video that showed that the reset (not Restore) button was at the bottom of the switch. Holding this button while plugging the switch into power did reset the device…sort of.

But the reset instructions were confusing

The WeMo Switch reset sort of worked

When I triggered the reset, I could reconnect to the WeMo via its wifi SSID. I left everything as default (originally I had changed the name). It did not let me select a network since it already knew about the wifi network that I had previously set up (that’s why it’s a “sort of” reset). I disconnected from the WeMo, and it now showed up on the WeMo app (finally).

Connecting the Amazon Dot and the Belkin WeMo Switch Smart Plug

Belkin’s connection instructions were pretty good this time, but step 4 was a doozy

The connection in instructions were here:

When I got to Step 4 – nothing happened. I turned the WeMo switch on and off like a crazy monkey (you know the one – the one that is part of a group of monkeys typing for an infinite time and writing Shakespeare’s works).

Belkin's connection instructions were pretty good this time but step 4 was a doozy

I retried the connection instructions several times and then it finally worked

This reminded me of the “Then A Miracle Occurs” cartoon. It “magically” started to work but it was uncomfortable magic.

Photo credit:

I retried the connection instructions several times and then it finally worked

In Conclusion

The Amazon Dot worked perfectly. The WeMo Switch was a struggle. I’m not sure how reliable it will be – I’ll update this post if it goes bad within the next year.

Knowing what I know now – would I buy the Belkin WeMo Switch? No – I wouldn’t buy it. I would look for alternative switches that work with Alexa. The frustration, uncertainty, and occasional magic are just not worth it. I suppose that $20 is well worth the lesson about Belkin’s home automation products.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter.

Review and Usage Steps of a Favorite Mac App – GrandPerspective

What is it?

GrandPerspective is a wonderful tiny disk utility that shows you in a graphical way disk usage so you can deal with the large files/folders that take up space. Below is the description the app store. It is well worth the $1.99 that the author is charging. You can certainly find it for ‘free’ but why not pay for an app that costs less than a small cup of Peet’s regular coffee.

What is it?

Why should you use it?

I recently started a ‘small’ project around cleaning my digital landfill of files and folders. My goal is to get a decent backup strategy that starts with my most important files (family pictures and videos) and continues with less valuable files/folders. In my pursuit of the 3-2-1 backup I needed to examine my polluted Dropbox folder for large files/folders to make a determination if they were garbage or useful data that I wanted to keep (I plan to detail my approach in a future post or course…but first I need to get through this exhausting cleaning).

How to use it?

So let’s get to it – how do you use GrandPerspective?

Note: this will be a quick walk-through of this software. If you want more detailed usage information – check out GrandPerspective’s Help (per the image below).

How to use it?

Go to the app store and get it

You can get it from here: Believe me when I say that it’s a bargain for $1.99.

Launch GrandPerspective

When you first launch GrandPerspective, you will be greeted with a small welcome window. It will look like the following image except that there won’t be any locations in the ‘Repeat a recent scan’ section.

Choose the “Scan Other Folder” button.

Launch GrandPerspective

Choose the folder that you want to scan

In my case, I chose my ‘Dropbox’ folder, but you can choose any folder you wish. Then press the ‘Scan’ button.

Choose the folder that you want to scan

GrandPerspective will QUICKLY scan your folder and produce a tree map

The program is amazingly quick at scanning a folder of any size. The result is a tree map that looks like one of those quilts with different squares and colors.

GrandPerspective will QUICKLY scan your folder and produce a tree map

Moving your mouse across the treemap shows you files/folder sizes

GrandPerspective has amazing file resolution in terms of the mapping between squares and files and folders.

When you move your mouse, you will see a large border that points to a top level directory (1). Within this block, you’ll see sub-folders that are delineated by different colors (2).

In the example below the mouse cursor is within a gold block (3). This particular block is a large file whose size is 1.24 GB. Relative to other files/folders – this particular file is HUGE. Let’s take a more careful look at this file.

Moving your mouse across the treemap shows you files/folder sizes

Getting more detail on the file – 1

In the image below – I expanded the GrandPerspective window so that it shows the full path to my large file (notice my mouse cursor is on the gold block as mentioned above). The information bar at the bottom of the screen shows me the exact path and file name. As I look at this file, I remember that this large file is a ScreenFlow file of a screencast answer to a student’s JavaScript question.

Let’s look at even more detail of the file by right-clicking on it.

Getting more detail on the file - 1

Getting more detail on the file – 2

When I right click on the gold block (my ScreenFlow file) I have three choices:

  • “Reveal in Finder” (the one that I choose): opens the Finder to the location of the specified file/folder
  • “Open with Finder”: opens the file with whatever application is the default. In other words, select this option for my ScreenFlow file opens the file directly in ScreenFlow.
  • “Copy path”: Copies the path that is shown at the bottom part of the screen.

I’ve chosen the “Reveal in Finder” option.

Getting more detail on the file - 2

Getting more detail on the file – 3

GrandPerspective now opens the folder that contains my chosen file (the gold block from the above picture), and it conveniently highlights the file.

At this point I can choose whether I want to keep it, toss it or move it somewhere else.

Getting more detail on the file - 3

Where to go next – lots of different options

GrandPerspective has many options, but the above steps are the basics. You can delete files/folders with it too, but I would suggest doing this within the Finder, so you’re sure of what you’re doing. To get details about additional features – check the Help menu or the GrandPerspective site.

Where to go next - lots of different options

Who is it made by?

I always like to know a software creator’s background because it typically reflects in the DNA of the software.

GrandPerspective is made by Erwin Bonsma who seems to be very awesome. I know – you’re wondering how I could know that. Well – check out his home page for some neat visual work. You can clearly tell that this guy loves to work with visual things (puzzles, animations, 3D printing, and software) and it reflects in the simplicity and power of GrandPerspective.

Some other places that Erwin frequents (based on links from his home page):

Who is it made by?

Should you buy it?

The short answer: YES! (if you need to find space in your digital landfill known as your hard disk)

The long answer: Probably. It’s a nicely artisan-ish made app that does one thing very well. It is also very (very) reasonably priced.

QP: A great Big Data AWS presentation

The “Essentials: Architectural Patterns for Big Data on AWS” webinar from today was one of the best webinars that I have seen in a long time.

Siva Raghupathy ( methodically covered all the parts that he mentioned at the beginning of the presentation. The last summary slide really shows everything that he covered:

I really like the use of temperature graphs to compare and contrast AWS usage scenarios and the best services for such scenarios. This is a great example of such a graph (I’ve seen some other AWS webinars that use similar visualization).

It’s funny that at the beginning of every AWS webinar a bunch of people ask if the slides and presentation video will be available. The answer is always the same “we’ll send out a link to the slides and video in a few days”. I have attended several of these webinars and with the exception of one – the slides and video are never sent (for the exception – a link to video/slides was available for a few days – then the video disappeared).

These days I typically record the webinars if I can. I’m really glad to have recorded this one. I would love to post the video of the presentation but I cannot do so since it is AWS’s property. If the video for this fantastic webinar does not show up – please hit up @awscloud ( and ask them to give me permission to post the video (alternatively – I’m more than happy to send it to them for posting).



If you found this useful – let me know via <a href=”“>@eli4d on Twitter</a>

Book Review: “Swarm” by B.V. Larson

Warning: Spoiler Alert: If you intend to read the book, please do not read this review.



  • Harlequin level: n/a
  • Plot/action/story: 5
  • Solid conclusion: 5
  • SciFi thrill: 4
  • Fantasy thrill: n/a
  • Part of a series but doesn’t skimp: n/a – Not sure since I haven’t read any other books in the series (yet)

Overall thoughts about the book

I borrowed B.V. Larson’s “Swarm” from the Kindle Owner’s Library. The reviews were decent though I didn’t have high expectations.

The story is told from the main character’s first person point of view. Although the analogy is weak – it reminds me of the falling into the rabbit hole part of “Alice in Wonderland”. It is a well edited book that has a fast pace.

Kyle Riggs is a computer science teacher at Merced University. He lives on a small family farm with 2 kids. His wife passed away 10 years before in a car accident.

I like the fact that Larson doesn’t dawdle. Within a few pages, the big bad shows up – an alien ship that abducts and kills his son and daughter. Then the big black arm of the ship takes him.

As a parent, it’s heart wrenching to watch Kyle’s helplessness as his kids are killed. When he takes command of the ship after passing its nasty tests, you think that he could bring the kids back due to the ship’s advance technologies but it’s one of those false hope moments that crushes Kyle and you as a reader.

I recognized the voice then, the one in my head that was saying these attractive things. It was the evil, chattering hope-monkey. I had met this creature before, mostly in dreams, after Donna had died. She would be alive in my dreams and I would awaken, smiling, planning my day with her. But each morning I would rediscover with fresh despair that she was still dead. A grief counselor I’d talked to had named the phenomena the hope-monkey.

I think it’s this visceral sort of connection to this character that makes the story great. I’m not sure if I would feel that connection if I wasn’t close to Kyle’s age and life stage.

The technological description is fairly raw and detailed. But I think that beyond the introduction, the thing that kept my interested was Kyle’s computer science approach when dealing with an alien AI. His whole debugging approach resonated with me from a software development point of view.

I think that any software geek would definitely enjoy the book from a problem/puzzle point of view. The automated nature of the Nanos and the Macros is also quite interesting in a programmatic puzzle sort of way.

And just when you think it’s a big happy ending and the ‘good guys win’, Larson smacks you upside the head with cold computer logic setting you up for his second book. If you’ve dealt with computer programming, then the realism of this computer logic based ending is quite sobering and makes the book great.

“Swarm” is the first of the Star Force series (currently at 12 books). I’m definitely willing to give book 2 (“Extinction”) a chance. But I’m leery of such series since many times they end up being more a money play rather than an amazing saga. Maybe Larson’s series is different…I don’t know.

Some neat passages:

I felt as if I were suffocating, as if a great hand had come down and closed over me, putting me out like fingers snuffing a candle flame.

I thought about what Crow had said about achieving independence. No political group was allowed to do so unless it was strong enough to fight for its freedom.

Alliances are always forged in the fires of necessity, rather than poured from the sweet wine of love. I recalled having read that quote somewhere and it seemed particularly apt today.

Internally, I did not call myself a volunteer. I recalled having been drafted by a silent, black starship, in the middle of the night.

A smile split my face. Stupid machine. It had been programmed not to answer any questions about the creators. But it hadn’t been programmed not to answer questions in the negative. In other words, it could talk about what they were not.

Adobe Voice – is it worth it?

If you’re an instructor – is Adobe Voice worth using?

The short answer: no.


My co-worker (Matt) showed me Adobe Voice and suggested that it might be a useful tool for creating instructional presentations. In this post, I review Adobe voice from the point of view of an instructor. Some questions that I’ve kept in mind while doing this:

  • Does it allow me to create compelling presentations?
  • How difficult is it to use?
  • Can I preserve my source materials? (to clarify – consider that regardless of your like/dislike of PowerPoint all PowerPoint presentations since 1.0 can still be used and modified with the latest version of PowerPoint)
  • Is this product going to be around in a year?

In the summary section I describe what I see as the pros/cons of Adobe Voice. While in the detail section I cover my test presentation and usage of Adobe Voice.

You can find the sample presentation that I created on Adobe Voice at:

Summary aka ;TLDR

Ironically, Adobe seems to own your voice when you use Adobe Voice. Consequently, from an instructor point of view I don’t think it is worthwhile. It has great value as a potential form of self expression that also advertises for Adobe. It is great for throwaway projects and has potential as a brainstorming tool assuming that you don’t care about your brainstorming’s artifacts.

Stepping for a moment away from the instructional point of view, Adobe Voice is a great showcase app that can provide other app makers with a great user centric approach to accessing and using Creative Commons assets.

Right now (as of 10/21/15) Adobe Voice is only available on the iPad.

The good about Adobe Voice:

  • The most amazing part of Adobe Voice is the ease of import of Creative Commons materials in terms of icons and images. There’s a certain sort of odd irony that the open nature of Creative Commons is the core feature of an extremely proprietary tool. More interoperable competitors such as Explain Everything should immediately implement this very feature in their product. If nothing else Adobe Voice is a great prototype of the things that you can do with Creative Commons.
  • Kudos to the UI designers and the programming team of Adobe Voice for making it both powerful and easy to use.
  • The frame-by-frame voice recording is great in combination with the background music and choosable theme.

The bad about Adobe Voice:

  • Only portrait orientation is allowed. This may seem like a minor point but it becomes really annoying really fast.
  • The video that Adobe Voice generates is only available on Adobe’s site. Adobe Voice is another way for Adobe to bring users into their Creative Cloud. The only in-app purchase within the app is for space on Creative Cloud. I understand that Adobe is a business and they need to make money. However, in a business context Adobe Voice is nothing more than a pretty advertisement brochure for Adobe. There is no way to export the project to any format but the proprietary one that is stored on Creative Cloud. So ironically your voice as represented by your Adobe Voice project is locked away on Adobe’s servers. There is no way to export the project into any neutral format (like Markdown). This is the biggest problem with Adobe Voice and I cannot recommend it to anyone because of this. Adobe may discontinue the project at any time and the only thing that users may be left with is yet another corporate email apology.


In this section I walk through my small video creation that you can find here: . As a technical point – I used an Audio Technica lavalier microphone – the ATR3350iS. I heard a little bit of background noise when recording and choose the ukulele background music to mask it. This brings up one issue with using the iPad with Adobe Voice – audio capture is tricky. The iPad’s microphone is really not great and you would be better served with a shotgun type of microphone. However, if you use Adobe Voice for just throwaway projects then the sound quality may not matter as much.

Starting Adobe Voice

Few log-in options and some pimping to educational organization.

Starting Adobe Voice

I used my Adobe login

I happen to have a Creative Cloud account due to some meager attempts at learning Photoshop. For my use the cost of Creative Cloud is questionable.

I used my Adobe login

Choice of presentation structure

A very nice pallette of presentation structures to choose from. I went with “Teach a Lesson”.

Choice of presentation structure

The Heart of the Interface

This is the ‘dashboard’ through which you build your presentation on a frame-by-frame basis. In a sense it’s no different than working on a PowerPoint viewgraph – but with the iPad’s tactile interface and amazing Creative Commons usage. Lets do a quick walk through the interface:

1 – Home sweet home where you can create new projects or edit old ones. You never have access to the actual project file and its contents beyond the Adobe Voice app and Creative Cloud.

2 – Built-in: Layout allows frame-by-frame image/icon/text arrangment; Themes is presentation wide changes of theme; Music is presentation wide music backgrounds (all of these will be shown later)

3 – The “share” button which is more of an “upload then share via url to video” (you can only share a link to Adobe’s site where your assembled presentation is located).

4 – Per frame presentation elements: Icon scaled to fit, or Photo, or Text. For icon/photo you can use Creative Commons search or your own (shown later)

5 – This is the magical button that records your voice for this particular frame. As long as you hold it, then your voice is recorded. Once there’s either a visual element (via (4)) and/or audio, then you’ll have the ability to play just that frame. Note that I found some weird skips when doing an audio recording that was less than a second.

6 – This is a very PowerPoint like view of your current and future presentation frames. You also have a play button on the left side to play the presentation from this point forward (across all frames). The frame names that you see are due to the “teach a lesson” structure that I choose for this presentation.

The Heart of the Interface

Icon search for ‘voice’ – 1

Icon search for 'voice' - 1

Icon search for ‘voice’ – 2

Look at the amazing Creative Commons selections!

Icon search for 'voice' - 2

Photo search options

“Find Photos” is the Creative Commons search. Have I mentioned how awesome this is?

Photo search options

Replace layout on current frame – 1

Replace layout on current frame - 1

Replace layout on current frame – 2

Replace layout on current frame - 2

Theme Choices

Note that certain themes can cause distortions of photos due to theme type. For example, the Watercolor theme caused the picture in frame 2 to be distorted in a theme appropriate way. In my case, it cut off frame 2’s picture to the point that the word ‘unique’ was not visible so I went back to Simple theme. There are more themes than what’s shown in the image.

Theme Choices

(Background) Music Choices

A very nice touch is the ability to change the volume of the background music across the whole presentation.

(Background) Music Choices

Photo orientation gone bad

There’s no way to correct a photo that is mis-oriented…at least none that I could see.

Photo orientation gone bad

CC CYA – Creative Commons Information

When choosing the ‘i’ next to a Creative Commons image or icon – this is what you get.

CC CYA - Creative Commons Information

“Share” button – 1

I choose to “share” through email. And in case you’re wondering – yes, the double quotes are there for irony.

"Share" button - 1

“Share” button – 2

"Share" button - 2

“Share” button – 3

"Share" button - 3

“Share” button – 4

Boy do I have a story for you…and in case you didn’t know it ADOBE HELPED ME MAKE IT!

"Share" button - 4

“Share” button – 5

When you click the link in the email this is what you see in your browser.

"Share" button - 5

“Share” button – 6

When playing your presentation off Adobe’s site the last frame of your presentation is auto-generated. As you can see – in the case of my presentation it gives attribution to all the Creative Commons images and icons that I used. This is a very nice way to give credit where credit is due. Big thumbs up to Adobe Voice’s designers and developers.

"Share" button - 6


I’m not sure if there is more to say. Adobe Voice comes so close to being amazing but it falls short through its proprietary nature. And the amazing part is the most ironic part too – the integration of Creative Commons assets. It leaves me with this mixed feeling about Adobe Voice which is reflective of how I feel about the company that brought both amazing products like Photoshop and terrible ones like Flash.