Dispatches from my Internet of Things

A few years ago I noticed that a couple of different tools and services I was using at the time were offering the option to tweet when I engaged with them somehow. I was interested to try it out but I didn't want to clutter up my human-authored Twitter feed with a bunch of software-authored stuff that I couldn't necessarily control the timing or content of.

So, I created the @JCHThings Twitter account, and it's been a steady stream of activity from the Internet-connected devices and tools in my life ever since.

Sometimes it shares some bad news:

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Living in Prague

Continuing the tradition of taking a month every year to live somewhere else, Kelly, A. and I have just returned from a wonderful month in Prague, Czech Republic.

Karlův most

Previous years have found us in Asheville, NC, Washington, DCPortland, OR and various parts of Ecuador. As I wrote about last year's trip:

It's just long enough to transition away from full-on tourist mode and get to know a place a little bit more from a local point of view. Immersing ourselves in a new landscape is also a great way to get perspective on the world and the rest of our lives - what we value, what we miss, what we want more or less of and how we might make that happen.

This year's trip was different in a few ways. Our last three have all been in the U.S. so we were excited to again be overseas and where we didn't know the language. It was also very new to do this kind of trip with our 11-month-old daughter. We wanted to challenge ourselves in these ways and while it was hard at times, overall it was a really fun and amazing experience.

View from Letná Park

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Post Fact

What do you do if you find yourself living in a world where facts no longer matter to most people?

From the New York Times coverage of the historic British vote to leave the European Union:

The British campaign featured assertions and allegations tossed around with little regard to the facts. Both sides played to emotion, and the most common emotion played upon was fear.

Sound familiar?

Sure, it could describe the current U.S. Presidential campaign, but it could also describe myriad other campaigns about the environment and climate change, energy, food and health, poverty, war, immigration, politics, economics, laws and justice...the list goes on.

If there's an issue being debated, there's probably someone out there making an argument that is not based in fact and that plays upon our fears. Unfortunately, those are probably also the most well-funded, successful players in the campaign. Anyone asking for a reasoned, logical, fact-based approach are probably drowned out quickly if they're ever even heard at all.

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Review of The Roost Stand

wrote earlier that The Roost Laptop Stand is a part of my daily carry when I'm working away from home. I've been using it since 2014 when I started working regularly from co-working spaces, coffee shops and other places. For the last few months I've been using the second generation of The Roost Stand, so I want to share a few more thoughts on it here.

(Disclaimer: the Roost team sent me a free stand after they saw the Lifehacker post featuring my bag contents. I am not being compensated for this review and am under no obligation to provide positive commentary or any commentary at all.)

In case you're not familiar with what the Roost stand is or does: it elevates your laptop screen to the height at which you might use a traditional computer monitor. This means that long periods of time staring at a screen don't necessarily lead to a sore neck or back from being hunched over. Here's what it looks like in use:

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Working for someone else

This week marks two full years of my employment at Automattic. I was fortunate to celebrate in person with a number of my colleagues as we hosted a workshop for our clients and partners in beautiful Napa, California.

People who know that I co-founded and built my own tech business before joining Automattic often ask me what it's like to work for someone else. My short answer is usually:

  • I miss some of the joys and challenges that go with being ultimately responsible for the success of a business venture...
  • ...but Automattic is a place where I am trusted with a level of autonomy that I'd be hard pressed to find in many other employment situations, and
  • I am mostly just enjoying discovering new ways of doing things and being a part of a bigger team with greater resources available for innovation.

This post is my longer answer. While working at another company it has been useful and interesting to notice what it's like to have a change in my professional identity, not be "the boss," enthusiastically support something I didn't create, and try to balance the joys of "employment" with the inner itch to again be a "founder."

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The Trump we asked for

As an Indiana resident and voter, it's tempting to be embarrassed at the headlines of "Trump wins Indiana" blanketing the national news today. Indeed, I find almost everything about his candidacy, personality and public statements to be deeply problematic on numerous levels. But Mr. Trump's success in the primary and his win here in Indiana are just more symptoms of a brokenness in U.S. politics that goes far beyond this state or this election year.

When I was growing up, a career in politics mostly seemed like something boring, unglamorous and yet perhaps ultimately noble that certain kinds of people would necessarily take on in service of their town, state or country. Many kids wanted "to be President some day," but most would redirect their attention to other more practical and personally rewarding pursuits when they realized the amount of mundane policy details they'd have to immerse themselves in, or the long road of statespersonship that only just began with a law degree or military service. In this way the bar was set somewhat high for entering a life in politics, and while somewhat contrary to the promise that anyone with a good idea can make a difference in a government of the people, maybe in some ways it was a good thing.

As the lapel pin-wearing political class has emerged, the idea of just anyone being able to make a difference in politics seems more myth than anything. In a country of hundreds of millions of people, the same small circles of people are held up as the only realistic candidates. If you're not willing to amass gobs of money (or friends with gobs they can share), compromise your values and public persona to fit with the room you're in, make promises you can't keep and bow to the primacy of the so-called military-industrial complex, it's unlikely that you can succeed as a politician. Those of us who have in the past held out hope for a candidateperson who can transcend those constraints to restore a principled, dignified approach to government leadership have now mostly learned to know better.

So if we can't relate to or become a part of the political class, we at least expect them to entertain us. Between the 24-hour cable network rehashing of Every Little Unimportant Detail, tell-all insider memoirs, the salacious political affairs and scandals of the last two decades and the fear-mongering around U.S. national security, our appetite for political theater that distracts us from any substantive discussion of issues or outcomes has grown each year. Congressional gridlock, court decisions around corporations as people and money as free speech, and a media generally unwilling or unable to do anything other than chase the story of the day means the founding structures of U.S. government that once required a boring but otherwise accountable and productive national conversation have been all but undone.

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Let's Encrypt SSL certificates on cPanel hosted sites

SSL is one of the most important technologies in use on the modern web. It enables all kinds of business, collaboration, commerce, activism and communication to happen securely, and the Internet couldn't thrive without it.  Yet for the average person, alongside domain name registration and management, obtaining and renewing SSL certificates has always been one of the least accessible and convenient parts of having a website.

So I was particularly proud when a year ago my employer Automattic became a sponsor of the Let's Encrypt initiative and even more proud earlier this month when we rolled out free SSL for all domains hosted on WordPress.com, using Let's Encrypt certificates. All of the sudden a huge portion of the world's websites were using SSL to make sure communications between site owners and users are encrypted and secure - amazing!

Let's Encrypt is itself pretty amazing. A bunch of industry experts got together and decided it was time to make the process of obtaining SSL certificates free, automatic, secure, transparent, open and cooperative. This is a long way from what it looked like in the late 1990s, when just a few "certificate authority" options existed, you could expect to pay $100 or more for a certificate, and the application process was painfully slow and analog (think faxing your corporate articles of organization and a photocopy of your driver's license to a call center somewhere), and that's all before you had to mess around with recompiling or reconfiguring Apache to use SSL on your site(s). Even with Let's Encrypt and other modern options some of the concepts and steps remain too technical for many site owners to tackle, but it's getting better all the time.

I'm used to paying around $10/year for SSL certificates on a few of my personal sites, and I actually haven't minded that price point given that the rest of the process has been pretty easy for me to manage. But I recently decided to try using a Let's Encrypt SSL certificate on a site that didn't have one yet, and I'm sharing the steps involved here.

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