This is My Forty

I’m writing this entry late in the evening of my fortieth birthday. Tonight I sit here taking a few quiet moments to let myself recharge after a number of very social days. The importance of a single birthday because it’s a round number like forty can be debated, but I’ve been asked a few times my thoughts on this birthday the last few weeks so I thought a moment to reflect wouldn’t be out of line.

Having a birthday less than two weeks before Christmas means that I’m used to it being a busy time. There is the normal activity as the days count down to the holiday season and the end of the year. Having worked in higher education for the last thirteen years it’s also a time that marks the end of a semester, student exams, and graduation ceremonies at work.

Even with those factors, I’ve been busy lately. Earlier this year had challenging times, but as summer turned to autumn I’ve found myself both fairly busy an mostly happy. I don’t think those are unrelated. I’ve opened myself back up more socially after closing off for a while. Meeting people without expectations has left me busy, at time even hectic, but enjoying life as it comes by.

As I reach forty I find myself happy. Not all of my life is perfect, but is life ever? It is pretty good. I’m in the best health I’ve been since I was a teenager and the best shape of my life. When I look forward it’s with optimism and the feeling that my best years are coming more than they have passed me by. And that is truly I think all I could ask for any day.

Article Published on Tuts+ Code

My article on Securely Handling User’s Login Credentials is up on Tuts+ Code.

For most websites, you have different areas within it (home page, user profile, admin page, etc.), some of which will be public and others will need to be restricted to only certain users. You often want to uniquely identify users so you can provide customized content or to capture specific information from a user. Many sites also need to protect part of the site, such as an administrative area to maintain and update the content of the site. In a CMS site, some users may be able to create content, but others must approve that content before it is shown to the public.

Read the Rest.

A Last Word on Google Reader

I’d originally planned this to be published a few days ago and to be much more comprehensive on what I chose to replace Google Reader and how I’d arrived at that decision. Simply put, life, and a failed hard drive, got in the way. So instead here’s the shorter version.

I’ve used Google Reader for a long time, first to sync, and then as my main reader, then again to sync. And I was not happy to see it go away, and so soon after the announcement, but expected that several alternatives would appear to try to fill the void. They have. More than twenty are listed on ReplaceReader, a site listing all the alternatives. Some existed before the announcement, but have either arrived or been reinvigorated afterward.

Google Reader won because it was frankly better than the alternatives when it came out. There were other services that synced news, but frankly they didn’t work as well. I know because my primary method at the time was a series of batch files that copied my sync state to and from a USB thumb drive.

From the start I planned to wait until about mid June to really begin testing alternatives. I’d play with a few before then, but I expected a couple of months would be needed for the new candidates to arrive. An early month vacation that wasn’t quite as restful as expected had me starting a bit earlier, but I really didn’t make my final choice until earlier this week.

I’m currently using NewsBlur. It was the first alternative I tried and the one I kept coming back to. Overall it feels the most polished web version at this point and the native iOS apps work well. In addition it feels the most stable and reliable as it was around before the shutdown announcement. The intelligent features for news feeds I’m still playing with, but look promising so far.

The other service I’m keeping an eye on is Feed Wrangler. It still feels just a bit too rough for me to use daily, but it might be the one that I’ll be using six months from now. The flexibility of the smart streams could be a wonderful way to manage the heavier traffic sites I follow while highlighting what I want to read.

Overall none of the programs really seem to completely replicate Google Reader. There are a lot of new programs coming out, many in just the last few days, and this is changing quickly. I expect many of them won’t be around a year from now. What I’d look for now is what works best for you and make sure you have a way to export your data so there’s a way out if your chosen service closes down in the future.

Creating HDR photos with Luminance

My article on Creating HDR photos with Luminance is up on Windows.AppStorm. A preview:

HDR attempts to compensate for the lesser dynamic range of a camera by taking multiple images that together cover the entire dynamic range of the scene and combining them together to produce a photo that better presents the full dynamic range in the original scene. Many high end graphic processing packages such as Photoshop contain the ability to create HDR images. Other specialty programs designed only to create these images also exist. Creating these images does not require expensive specialized software. Here we’ll look at using the free open source Luminance to produce HDR images.

Read the rest on Windows.AppStorm

Why I’m Not Sure I’ll Miss Borders

Understand that I’m a reader.  I love books, have books, and will often buy a book that looks interesting knowing that I probably won’t be able to get around to reading it for weeks or months.  When I travel I love to find a used bookstore and can spent a couple hours going through and leave with a stack of books so large that they have to be shipped home instead of packing in my luggage.

When I read the news that Borders is expected to file for bankruptcy this week it surprised me then my reaction was largely, “Meh.”  It’s not that I dislike Borders, but honestly I just don’t go there for books that often.  A lot of blame for the demise of Borders is being placed on the “Internet” much like it’s some vague evil force.  In truth I’ll expect in the end management mistakes and being late to get into the online sales routes did most of the work to take Borders down this road.  For me Borders never competed against the Internet.  For me Borders competed against the fact that the nearest store is about an hour’s drive from my house and to be honest if I want a book it’s only about a fifty-fifty chance they’ll have it unless it’s the newest Stephen King or latest hot business book.  Sure they can order it, but I can do that myself from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or Books-A-Million and have it at my home in a few days.

In fact since I got a Kindle about a year ago, unless it’s a book I expect to reference certain ways, I’m just as likely to just buy the eBook and have it in a few minutes.  I enjoy the book experience, but I’m finding more the ability to carry an entire library with me anywhere is just too much of a benefit to ignore.  The ability to reference a book any time without having to remember where I’ve stored it means I’m re-visiting books that I’ve already read more than before.  The ability to take time that otherwise felt wasted (waiting on an oil change or at the doctor’s office) and read instead makes me feel more productive and I am getting more read thanks to these small moments.  Now that my phone has a Kindle app, I expect I’ll do this even more and not just when I expect to be waiting.

I don’t think books will go away and I don’t want them too.  The truth is though that a lot of books are read, digested, and then simply shelved or resold.  Something is lost perhaps in the move to eBooks, but I think more will be gained.  I hope the used bookstore with the musty smell and surprise finds never goes away.  I do think that the traditional bookstore will change, but I don’t think that they will all go away.  Some will thought and it appears Borders might be the first.

When Pricing on Kindle Books Makes No Sense

I bought a Kindle about six months ago.  I’m a big reader and the idea of having a large number of books available along with the convenience of instantly delivery appealed to me.  I live in a town with only one small bookstore and frankly they often don’t have a book that I may want so often I have to travel an hour to larger bookstores nearby to find things in stock or order online and wait days for delivery.  For a lot of books I’ve found that it’s not worth the hassle of either option so the books gets stuck onto a list to look at some later time.  With the Kindle, I can get the book right now and read immediately.  It’s like having a large bookstore right next to my house.

I’ve come to enjoy my Kindle more over time as I get more familiar with the convenience of having a large number of books I can take anywhere.  It’s surprising the downtime during the day where you have enough downtime to pull it out and start reading.  I still buy plenty of real books and don’t plan to stop as some books work better in paper, but I’m starting to move more of my purchases to the Kindle.

So tonight I looked for a book online and found the following pricing.  Note that the Kindle price is the highest of all the options on Amazon.  In fact the Kindle version (set by the publisher) is $8.87 more than the bargain price and $4.72 more than the standard hardcover price.  Apparently the paper for the printed book has a negative cost to produce.

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