Digital Ocean Review

I converted from a physical machine in my house to an online server at DigitalOcean. I’ve been wanting to try out Digital Ocean for hosting, but haven’t made the switch because of the size of my photo galleries. hosts my NextCloud instance and the touch table game repository and it is less than 5GB. This means I can use the smallest Digital Ocean server which costs $5 per month. Running the server in my house was more expensive. I was paying $5 for a static IP (which probably wasn’t required, but did make it easier) and about $3 for electricity. Plus the cost of occasional hardware replacements.

Getting setup at Digital Ocean was easy. One of their preconfigured machine setups is a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySql, PHP) server which is what NextCloud needs. I had to setup SSH keys, had to install a couple extra PHP packages, and make some apache configuration changes for NextCloud. Doing the NextCloud migration was a bit of a hassle, but that was a NextCloud issue.

Since setting up NextCloud, I’ve also built a stand-alone web app on this server. To do that I installed GIT and the SSH plugin for Visual Studio Code so that I could develop right on the Digital Ocean server, but also have source control and a backup on my home machine.

Everything has been pretty simple and convenient. Their monitoring tools are adequate for diagnosing performance issues and their billing is automatic. I do need to log in occasionally to do software updates, but I was having to do that for my local server anyway. Overall I’m pretty happy and will probably move over to them eventually. I “just” need to re-write my gallery webpage to use AWS instead of storing the photos locally.

Not having a home linux server does have some downsides. For one, it was just cool to have part of the internet in my house. But I also used the server to run my own DHCP and DNS. I had an ad blocking DNS server for my phone and also allowed me to create some short urls (like for friends to use to connect to the touch table. I miss both of these capabilities.

Hostgator: New webhost and review

I recently switched web hosting companies from HostMoster to HostGator. I have a fairly large website with two sub-domains, several mySQL databases, and lots of photos. This post will describe the transfer process and give a brief review of my experiences with HostGator.

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Netbrix/Lego Review

I’ve been wanting to put together a large Lego set, but I don’t really want to display or keep the finished product, so I gave a try. It is a Lego rental service – kind of like Netflix for Legos.

I rented a Technic Excavator set and the large London Bridge set.

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Fitbit Charge 3 review

This Christmas I got a Fitbit Charge 3 fitness tracker that tracks steps, heart rate and sleep quality. It has a grey-scale touchscreen that displays the date and time along with steps or heart rate when tapped. It can also display text messages, calls, and email from a phone.

I really like having a fitness tracker that also displays the date/time. I also appreciate having heart rate data for workouts and getting notifications on the watch.

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Shop Heroes

I’ve been playing “Shop Heroes” for about a month. It’s a bit embarrassing because it isn’t a serious computer game. In fact it’s a casual browser/mobile game and it even has micro-transactions where you can pay money to speed up progress in the game. It’s the reality TV or soap opera of the computer game world. But it has managed to distill the addictive elements of casual and role playing games into a very appealing form.

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Mechanical Keyboard

I received the mechanical keyboard from my wishlist for Christmas. It is the Rosewill RK-9000BRI. I hadn’t been able to play with the keyboard in person, so it was pretty exciting to open it up to try.

The first few keyboards that I used were all mechanical keyboards. The Apple II computers at school, and my first Tandy had mechanical keyboards. I remember the Apple II keyboard as having a particularly satisfying feel. My first modern computer was a 386 and it had a mechanical keyboard too. All of these machines were relatively expensive compared to a modern computer, and a nice keyboard was part of that cost.

My next couple of computers came from IBuyPower (a discount computer assembler) and then I started assembling my own. All my keyboards since the 386 have been membrane style. There is nothing really wrong with a membrane keyboard; they work pretty well and are very in-expensive. The main disadvantage of a membrane keyboard is that you have to fully depress (bottom out) each key press. This requires you to use extra force to type and increases strain.

Mechanical keyboards have seen a resurgence in popularity and there are quite a few options. The biggest decision to make is which type of switch to get (there is a switch under each key of a mechanical keyboard). The switch type determines how much force is required to activate the key, how much noise a key press makes and whether there is a tactile bump when the key is activated. There is a really good post summarizing the switch types at

I picked the Cherry MX Brown switch. I wanted there to be a distinct tactile bump prior to activation, and I didn’t want an audible click to sound. That left the brown and the clear. The brown is easier to find and requires a little bit less force than the clear. The other big decisions to make are what layout you want and if you want any back-lighting.

I am really enjoying my keyboard (this blog post is really just an excuse to use it more). I am still getting used to the idea that I don’t have to fully depress the keys. I have used membrane keyboards so long that it is hard to adjust. I would say that I am already faster with the new keyboard, but I am still making a few more errors than I used to.

DRM and eBooks

I received a Kindle for Christmas in 2010. I have really enjoyed the device: It is smaller and lighter than a physical book, hold lots of books/magazines at once, and lets me save clippings and lookup words on the fly. I prefer to read a book on the Kindle, and will even check-out the eBook from the library instead of using the physical copy that I own.

However, it was over two years before I bought an eBook. At first, I got a “New Yorker” magazine subscription. Next I got into reading library books on the Kindle. Lately I have been using the “Send to Kindle” Chrome app to send long-form articles to the Kindle.

The reason that I hadn’t been willing to buy an eBook was the DRM. I don’t feel like I really own the book if I can’t transfer it to another device. The Kindle is a great product, but I don’t want to be locked into that piece of hardware to read my books. If something happens to the Kindle or a competitor comes out with a better reader, I want to be able to switch and not have to re-buy my books.

Recently, TOR books decided to remove DRM from their eBooks. I am sure that it was a hard decision for them. Without the DRM, it is easy for someone to buy one copy and share it with their friends. Of course, DRM doesn’t protect them from a dedicated pirate. All popular titles are already available to someone who is motivated. But DRM does stop casual sharing. Fortunately, TOR hasn’t seen an increase in piracy and the experience has been positive for them. They have no plans to return to DRM.

So my first eBook was “Ender’s Game” from TOR. I hope that other publishers follow suit and provide a product that I can truly own.