Pond Adventures

I’ve got a small fish pond, complete with waterfall,  in my back yard that my parents put in when they owned the place.  It’s honestly one of my favorite features of the back yard – but also one of my greatest sources of frustration.  From the first day of having it turned on it lost water at an alarming rate.

Trial and error over the past few years led to me learning quite a bit about the pond,  and culminated a few weeks ago when I finally solved the water loss issue by partially rebuilding the waterfall basin.

What I’ve learned is that the pond is missing some items that would make it easier to maintain, and healthier for the fish – specifically a bio-filter system (it traps large biological debris long enough for beneficial bacteria to break it down), which would help provide clear water and remove wastes, returning nutrients that the water plants consume.

Sometime soon I’m planning on investigating how to retrofit the pond to use a bio-filter system.  They’re relatively maintenance free (once you’ve got them operating) as you’re not supposed to really clean them.

Due to the ridiculous winter, we lost the fish that had been in the pond.  I was sad to see this happen as it was always fun to go out and feed the fish in the evening.  I remedied this yesterday by picking up four new fish to start re-stocking.  I’m hoping soon to see more frogs return this summer as well.   I’m happy to have found a local aquarium shop that has a lot of expertise on ponds as well.  Most of the advice local landscaping companies have provided I’ve found to be incredibly wrong – and these guys seem to know their stuff.




Moving hosting companies

After my experiment with Heroku and Cloudfront it became very clear that there were better options for hosting a website than what I was using.  I could dramatically improve performance, and uptime, without adding significant additional cost.

But while I was able to successfully deploy a test to Heroku and Cloudfront and got wildly improved performance,  running a blog on Heroku would add significant overhead to running the site.    In fact, it made keeping the software up to date impossible – which created security issues.  Clearly I could not use Heroku for this long term.

I opted to move to a web host that’s dedicated to the blog software I use,  and is designed to be performant with caching and a CDN built into the service.  It’s designed to be performant,  meaning less time spent trying to make my site that way.

Since I needed a lot of control over my DNS during the move, I opted to use Route53 from Amazon for DNS – which is fairly low cost given my low volumes.

But what to do about email.   I’ve been hosting email for any member of my family who wanted an account (any of you who don’t have one and would like an @whelans.net account, let me know) – and I know my dad uses it heavily.  For that, I opted to go the route of using Google’s Gmail via my old Google Apps account.   While not free, it does offer a significant improvement in performance over the fairly crappy email services I’d been providing before.  It also allows for utilizing Google Drive for sharing of files amongst family (something my dad and I will take advantage of, as we share files regularly).

Instead of looking for one host to support all services I’ve found that going with different providers appears to be the better solution.




Two things to avoid doing as a product manager

In my time as a product manager I’ve noticed two common traps a product manager will fall into while working to bring their product(s) to market.

  1. Making a gut decision without gathering information to inform the decision.
  2. succumbing to analysis paralysis, where so much information is sought that a decision is never made.

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‘NSA Proof’ encrypted email for the masses? Where do I sign up?!

ProtonMailLogoA few weeks ago I heard about a new email service being launched in Switzerland, called ProtonMail,  that promises to bring free encrypted email to the masses.   It’s been created by some folks from CERN and MIT, and is designed with the intent of being NSA Proof – meaning the US agency will not be able to read your communications at will*.

How do they accomplish this?  They designed the service with security in mind.   You log in with two passwords – one is used in conjunction with your username to authenticate you with the service.   The second is the password for the encryption of your files and email – and that password is never stored on the ProtonMail servers, so only you can decrypt your email.

All email between protonmail users is encrypted automatically.   You also have the option of encrypting email sent to outside services, which will result in the recipient receiving a link to follow where they must put in a passphrase of your choosing in order to decrypt the messages.

Lastly,  the email and company are based in Switzerland,  and your user data is protected by Swiss privacy laws (the same that have made Swiss banking famous).

The service is still in beta, and unlike Google they actually treat beta as beta and not a vehicle to drive more interest in the product (though I’m sure they’re doing a little bit of that too).  There’s a waiting list to get access,  which is there to allow them time to increase capacity and continue polishing the service.

If you’re at all concerned about obtrusive government surveillance of US Citizens, without probable cause or a warrant – or if you’re concerned about a foreign government’s spy agency targeting your communication despite having done nothing wrong – you should give this service a look.

It’s not perfect – but it has a lot of potential.



You know it’s going to be a bad travel day when…

… you start off your trip with TSA thinking you’re a terrorist and giving you a full patdown in front of everyone at the checkpoint.

I should have realized right then and there that things would not end well.   After passing through the normal metal detector screening I was told I had been “randomly” selected for additional screening.   This involves them rubbing some gauze pad type thing on my hands and putting them into a machine to detect traces of “bad things”.   To my surprise (and horror) the screen flashed with a red box around “E6 – Explosives detected”,  and several more TSA agents approached.

Despite my fears, it did not result in my being whisked away to a back room and interrogated – they ran my shoes through the xray machine and gave me a pat down, but that was the extent of things.  I wasn’t hiding anything so there was no reason to detain me further.   I laughed it off and went about my long wait for my flight.

You see – I was on the return leg of a vacation with my family.   I had a late flight out of Philly to Indianapolis,  and was looking forward to being home.  Little did I know the (mis)adventure that was in store for me – nor did I comprehend at the time the complete ineptitude of the airline that I had booked my flight on (US Airways).

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