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Looking Inside

I’ve always loved seeing the inner workings of things.
Seriously, everything from ship deck plans to microscopic photography to those encyclopedias with the plastic, layered sheets of illustrations.  I’ve been entranced by them all.
Well, I’ve been busy this week and I’m not up to doing a huge, long post about anything, so I’m just going to share two links to revealing illustrations.

First, there’s an older post on Gizmodo of 20 “cutaway” illustrations of everything from a car to a space suit to a modern aircraft carrier.  Seriously, these are super cool.  I could stare at them for hours, if I had the time.
Secondly, there’s a post from a few years back on Extreme Tech showing all the inner workings of a DSLR camera.  As an amateur photographer, I use one of these all the time, but I have to admit, I’m still amazed at all the bits and pieces that make it work.

So, that’s all I’ve got this week, but hopefully it’s enough to keep you amused until your weekend starts!

Digital Assets After Death

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what happens when we die.
Recently, a friend of my wife’s died very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She was not, as far as anyone knows, ill in any serious way.  Nor, again, as far as anyone knows, did she have any medical condition that might lead one to expect a sudden death.  It was a very shocking surprise.
Her husband, who is also a friend of ours, was suddenly responsible for all the things she had…
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I like choices.

Also?  I’m cheap.
How do these things go together?  Simple, I am forever searching for cheaper, or, cheapest of all, free, alternatives to expensive commercial software packages.  Like alternatives to Microsoft products, so I don’t have to pirate them.  Or, free software that can replace Photoshop or something similar.  But, I don’t spend hours Googling for answers like that.  Instead, I go to a site called Alternative To and search there.  (And, yes, if you look for those two things you’ll find LibreOffice and GIMP, which I use instead of the things they replace!)
But, you can also find other alternatives, like, for instance, an alternative to Beyonce.  Or an alternative to the iPad.
And, if there’s not an alternative to what you’re looking for, you can always do the research and add the alternatives you find to save others the hassle.

So, go ahead and save yourself some time and, maybe, some money this Friday afternoon and find some free alternatives to your favorite, high-end software!

Modern Art

Okay, it’s been awhile since I’ve shared something that’s just fun to look at. Time to fix that.

So, I titled this “Modern Art”, but I really mean “Art made with contemporary tools and media”.  Not necessarily what people typically think of as “modern art”.  Not, as I recently heard someone describe it “Murals made by nailing up trash out of someone’s dumpster”.  (Not that there’s anything wrong with that at all, even though I probably wouldn’t hang something like that in my home.)
No, what I’m talking about is a site that collects everything from photography to innovative sculpture to sci-fi pop-art to animated GIFs.  And, pretty much, it’s all cool, too.  At least, I think it is.  Your opinion may vary.
Either way, ThisIsColossal has some interesting stuff to go look at, so, you know, go.  Look.  It’s Friday and, if you’re reading my blog, you’re not really working any way, so you might as well go and be entertained!

Have a great weekend!


Hurricane Preparedness

Hurricane season started on Monday, June First. Are you ready?

Here in Texas, hurricane season is kind of a big deal.  Or, at least, it is to this kid from the Heartland.  Of course, most of the time, we have plenty of time to prepare because you see these things coming from a long, long way off.  Still, it’s better to be prepared early rather than competing with everyone for bottled water, bread and canned food.
So far, since I’ve been in Houston, I’ve been through one horrible tropical storm, and near miss and one actual hurricane.  The tropical storm taught me where to buy my house, namely the one house we looked at that wasn’t pulling out carpeting after the flooding.  The near miss and the hurricane taught me to be a little better prepared.  So, every year, I try to spruce up the supplies I have and make sure I have fresh “survival food”.  I also try to post a little something about how we should get ready, as a public service of sorts.  And, of course, it helps me gather links together in one place that I find helpful.

There are a couple of philosophies when it comes to hurricanes.  Mostly, it’s either stay or go.
If you stay, you need to think about what you need to get by for an extended period of time.  Most emergency preparedness sources suggest that you need to have food, water and other supplies for at least 72 hours.  San Francisco has a great resource,, that is specifically designed to help people in that city prepare for disaster.  Of course, the basic principles can be applied almost anywhere, and there’s a section of the site dedicated to helping people take the SF72 template and customizing to their own city.  If you haven’t done any prep work at all on your disaster survival stash, this is a great place to start.  Another great place to look for ideas, although I think the list is a little over-board and dated, is the 2012 Doomsday Survival List from Money.  This was a list put together by a pretty extreme prepper who was convinced that the world was going to end in December 2012 for some reason.  In any case, it’s a pretty complete list for people who are fairly pessimistic, but it does cover most contingencies and considers a long-term disaster.  If you’re in the Houston area, like me, the city has their own disaster preparedness site, Ready Houston.  It’s a good site and they offer a free DVD you can use to help you plan for emergencies with advice specifically for the Houston, TX area.  They have videos on the site, too, as well as links to training other places, like FEMA.
One thing to consider if you have pets, for instance, is what to do with them during an emergency.  FEMA has a training course for helping you with your animals in an emergency situation, which I found via the Ready Houston website.  (They also have a more general, but, apparently, pretty complete course in general emergency preparedness.)

If you decide to make a run for it, you’ll want to put together what’s alternately called a “go bag” or a “bug out bag”.  Personally, I feel the name “go bag” seems less paranoid and crazy-survivalist sounding, but it amounts to the same thing.
The idea is simple, really, it’s just a bag with all the things you need for anywhere from three days to a couple of weeks, ready to go on a moment’s notice.  Not unlike a hospital bag for a pregnant woman, the main thing is that it’s packed and ready so when panic hits, you can just grab the bag and, well, go.  Again, you can take this as far as you’d like, assuming anything from temporarily relocating to another city and staying in a hotel to running off and hiding in the woods for a couple weeks.  It’s up to you.  But, either way, consider what might go into that bag.  For some good examples, check out Scott Kelley’s Bug Out Bag on Kinja, who even provides links to what he bought so you can get it easily, too, and the oddly less woodsy approach to a bug out bag by American Rifleman Magazine.  Remember, it ultimately comes down to just being ready for what ever you think might happen wherever you are.

I would also suggest that you have some long shelf-life food on hand, like every good IT guy has in his desk.  I particularly like Millenium Food bars, actually, since they provide a lot of calories and energy with a five-year shelf-life.  Also, they don’t taste bad at all!
Something I’ve been meaning to do is scan important documents, like my home-owner’s insurance policy and my various credit cards and IDs and put them all on a LaCie PetiteKey USB Flash Drive that I keep on my keys, in case all the original documents get destroyed while I’m not at home.

So, in short, the idea here is to be like the Boy Scouts, prepared.
Have you gotten ready for hurricane season yet?  Start now!

Photography Cheat Sheets, Again

It’s been a while since I shared any photography resources here, so I’m going to do that now.

So, in just a couple of weeks a good friend of mine is headed out to a Pacific island for an expedition for work.  Yes, I do have cool friends who do cool things.  In any case, he’s going to be taking a lot of photos, mainly of birds and other local flora and fauna, for blogs and reports he has to do as part of the justification for the money spent on him being sent on this little adventure to a semi-tropical island.  But, he’s a little rusty on his photography and actually only recently got a modern auto-focus lens, having been using his old-school, manual-focus glass.  So, in a small effort to give him some tools to. hopefully, get him a little more comfortable with some of the crunchy bits of the photography experience, I thought I’d share a link to the Photo Argus’s collection of 15 “Must See” Cheatsheets and Infographics for Photographers this week.

It’s worth a look for you photographers who, like he and me, have gotten a little out-of-touch with the technical parts of our cameras.  They cover everything from posing people for portraits, which I have never been good at doing, to just what aperture, ISO and shutter speed numbers all mean.  They also cover focal length control and the three components of exposure and a whole lot more.
They’re great refreshers if you’ve set your camera down for a long time for whatever reason.  And, they’re a great starting point for those of us who may never have been clear on some of these concepts in the first place!


Roll Your Own

Three words that strike fear into the heart of many a wise system administrator.

And not a few other sorts of smart people, too!
In this case, though, I’m talking about rolling your own WordPress theme.  This is one of those many, many projects that I’ve wanted to get to on that ever-elusive “one day” when I have spare time.  It’s also something I want to ultimately do for, which I quietly rolled live a week ago.  I won’t make it in time for the “official” launch date at the end of the month, but maybe I’ll have a custom theme there by year’s end.
In any case, for an open source project, I think WordPress is actually extremely well documented and, relatively recently, the Theme section of that documentation got a make-over, making it more useful and easy to use.  Of course, you can always download a theme, as I’ve mentioned before, but it’s always something that comes close to what you want, and not precisely what you want, developed just for you.  So, toward the end of enabling more people to make their own, personal, custom themes, I’ve got a mess of links for you this week for WordPress theme building.
Now, let’s get started.

First, there’s something I find very helpful, especially for someone who’s new to WordPress themeing; the WordPress Template Hierarchy.  This is a graphical representation of the way the various template files work and work together in WordPress.  If you think of it as a kind of flow chart, it may help you follow how everything fits together.  Also, remember that many of these files are really optional.  In fact, most are, but for a really functional theme, you’ll definitely have quite a few of them, so it’s worth looking at how they all fit together.

Once you get comfortable with that, consider choosing a framework for your theme.
I don’t mean a theme framework, although that is one option, because I feel like that would lock you into all the same traps as just using someone else’s theme, just on a larger scale.  But, do consider using a CSS framework, like Blueprint or Bootstrap.  (If you’re not sure what that means, don’t worry a lot of people don’t.  Just check out 10 Best Free CSS# Frameworks for 2015, which gives you a brief introduction to what they’re about and the front-runners in popularity.)
Bootstrap is one of the more popular ones, in part because it was created by the same folks who created Twitter, but it sure has grown beyond that.  In fact, you can see a lot of the applications for Bootstrap over at 40 Useful Bootstrap Tools and Generators for Web Developers, which even includes a link to a plugin for WordPress to help you integrate the two and starter theme and tools, just so you can see how it’s done!  This can make styling your theme easier, once you get used to how it all works together.  It helps if you’re already familiar with CSS3 or modifying existing WordPress themes, or both.

Another tool you may find useful as a starting point is _s, AKA Underscores.  Underscores is a “starter theme” meant to be the very basic pages needed for a theme, with minimal CSS styling done.  It’s basically a blank canvas for a theme, but that doesn’t really do it justice.  It’s been called the “1000 hour head start” for theme developers and was endorsed by the WordPress theme team at one point, though I don’t know if it still is.  If you want to go that way, which I think is a great idea, you can check out an introduction to it over at WP Tavern and a full-on tutorial for Underscores by it’s creator, Themeshaper.  And, even better, if you want to combine this starter theme with Bootstrap, you can see how with this tutorial; Make a Custom WordPress Theme with Bootstrap 3 and  (That’s what I’ll probably do when I finally find the time!)

So, there you have it.  Not quite all the tools you need to make a unique WordPress theme, but a very good start!
You’ve got a three-day weekend to use all that with now, so get to it!

DIY Magazines

Yes, resources to actually layout and publish your own magazine, mostly for free.

My blushing bride pointed out recently that I mostly haven’t posted anything original in years.  Just links to other resources and some brief copy around it to explain what I’m posting and why.
This week isn’t going to be any different.

I love magazines.
They are, perhaps, my most annoying secret vice.  They’re hard to store and, since I have so little time to really read these days, I tend to hold on to them far too long.  I love them so much that I lose sight of the fact that they are “periodicals”, meant to inexpensively deliver timely information that has a relatively short shelf-life.  I love the written word and few things pull me like a well-designed magazine with articles that promise knowledge or “hip-ness” that I can get from no other source.
In fact, I have always, secretly, wanted to establish an underground magazine, but I’ve never had the time or resources.
I still don’t have the time, but, well, here are some resources.

First of all, these are a bit old, although I verified them all myself very recently.  Mostly, these resources center around the technical aspects of design, layout and production of magazines, and rely on an Adobe program called InDesign.  It’s a little dated, but it’s still a good layout program.  So, the first link I’m sharing with you is to the suggestions for an InDesign replacement, all of which are free.  (Incidentally, I’ve used Scribus, which is the first they list and it’s actually surprisingly easy to get used to using.)  The next three links are all tutorials on layout specifically for magazines;,’s InDesign tutorials, and a “professional” magazine layout tutorial at  If you’re willing to pay a little bit, you can pick up one of the hundreds of magazine templates available at Magazine Forest for relatively little money.  (And, no, I don’t get any money from them or anyone else I link to in this post.  In case you were wondering.)  If I ever get any of this fabled “free time” I keep hearing people talk about, and had any inspiration to write on a regular basis, I would probably take that short-cut myself.  It’s hard to beat if you have $60 you can spend on this kind of project.
Finally, if you want to distribute your work, I have two ways to do it.  First is the digital magazine publisher, Issuu.  You can upload your digital magazine for free and readers can get to it for free, too.  If you want more control over your publication and access to stats on how many people are reading your work, they have paid plans.  And, finally, if you want to physically print your magazine, you can try MagCloud, which has a rate calculator posted so you can figure out how much it would cost to print your work in quantity.  It’s not as expensive as you might thing, considering.

So, there you go.  A magazine link-dump with everything you need from start o finish, except the actual content.
Good luck with that part.

Anyway, have a great weekend and go produce something!


Starting Up

I love starting things! Beginning something new is such an adventure!

Seriously!  Of course, sometimes, I have a bit of a hard time actually launching some of these ideas I have, even when I’ve mostly built the website.  That’s why, for instance, I’ve given myself a deadline of the end of this month to actually launch  If I don’t launch it soon, I may never!

That doesn’t mean I can’t have a sense of humor about start-ups, though.  Especially internet startups.  I mean, after having my career launch with the internet, basically, and keeping my nose to the corporate grindstone when I watched so many people try, with varying success, to launch every imaginable kind of startup known to human-kind, well, it does help to keep a sense of humor about these things.
That’s why when I saw the Random Startup Website Generator earlier this month, it seemed like old times.  It’s funny and clever and, well, a little close to home!
Of course, what it reminded me of was Wired on-line from that era and all the random Web 2.0 generators they had or had linked to from their site.  The fact that the links were brought together by the same guy who wrote the Wired app is probably no coincidence.  In fact, I even made my own contribution; the Web 2.0 Business Plan Generator!

For fun, compare that to “Cool Startup, Bro“, which are actual startups trying to get a little traction.  I’m not sure if it’s funny, or sad.  By the way, that link brings you to a page that auto-starts video with fairly loud audio, so be warned.

And, hey, start something new this weekend!

Things To Read

I’m a little suspicious of lists put out by booksellers of books I ought to read.

I’m especially suspicious when it’s a list of 100 “books to read in a lifetime” being suggested by Amazon.  But, when Matt Mullenweg, founder of Automattic and one of two founding developers of WordPress, I have to admit, I pay a little closer attention.  For one thing, I’ve heard spectacular things about him from at least one of his old high school buddies and for another, I respect what he’s managed to do with a basically abandoned open source project.  I figure he’s smart enough that he’s worth paying attention to when he suggests something.  Also, looking at the list, I’m surprised at how many I’ve read already, and how many more sound interesting.

That being said, if you want a shorter list of suggested books to read this year, you can try the 6 Books Bill Gates wants you to read presented by Inc., magazine.  Not surprisingly, no fiction listed here, but in six books he manages to cover some science and some history, as well as business and more general sociology.  Again, say what you will about Bill Gates, he is a genius and I am seriously considering reading these books this year.

So, now that I’ve given you a list of recommended reading to choose from this year, what will you choose?  Or do you have something else entirely you suggest we all read?