The Coronavirus And What I’m Doing

Panic. Mayhem. Stock market crash. Toilet paper shortages. School shutdowns.

Is the Corona virus something to panic about?

The Coronavirus, or COVID-19 is not on the top 10 things I’m concerned about. But because of the number of people bringing this topic up I thought I’d make a page I can point people at.

Am I worried about the Coronavirus? No. Am I making any changes? Very few. Do I have plans in place? Yes. Am I worried? No. Read on.

Covid-19 Graphic and what I'm going to Prepare

Hoarding Supplies

We’re not hoarding anything… we already have supplies as part of our normal emergency preparedness.

  • Data. I have extra spare hard drives, so my ZFS systems can continue to operate with redundancy should there be a hard drive shortage.
  • Food. We are not out buying more food than usual… we usually have several weeks worth of food we can raid in our pantry, plus gluten free food kit buckets to get us through longer emergencies.
  • Toilet paper — we always have plenty on hand so I didn’t buy more, but if it came to it I could put my junk mail to good use.
  • Hand Sanitizer — I have none except what’s in our emergency medical kit and vehicles. Nothing compares to handwashing with soap and water.
  • Ammo — plenty of it.
  • We’re also equipped with several ham radios, emergency battery packs we could use to charge our phones, lots of extra AA, AAA, and 9V batteries, a generator, gas, propane, etc.

Investing

The Stock Market News Report: Panic Panic Panic!

Markets going down. Recession. Panic. This chart makes it seem like the S&P 500 is way down. This is because the news looks at things with a short time horizon. 1 year was the max I could go on the NYT website and it looks bad.

Stock Market Crash due to Coronavirus

The headlines about the markets falling will be accompanied by a picture of a worried stock trader–this is not a recent picture from the floor of the NYSE. It’s a stock photo from Getty Images.

What A More Reasoned Long-Term View of the Market Looks Like

When a farmer buys a field, he isn’t concerned with the day to day price of the piece of land. Rather, he’s buying it as a business investment. What will this investment do for the long-run? Will it turn a profit throughout his lifetime? He doesn’t sell his field when it’s gone down 10% in value. He’s in it for the long haul. We ought to look at owning stocks in the same way.

You won’t see this chart in the news. Let’s go out to 10-years. And instead of looking at the percentage chart (which excludes income from dividends) let’s change it to a Growth of $10,000 chart. If you had invested $10,000 into the S&P 500 fund in March 13 of 2010, and did nothing for 10 years, you would have $30,146 on March 13, 2020. Your investment would have tripled in value. The stock market could still lose more and you will still have made a profit. (Some decades look worse, but in general the longer you stretch this out the less bad it looks). You see that little dip at the end? That’s what all the market crash news is about.

Chart of Growth of $10,000 over 10 years of the S&P 500 showing a 3x return

Nobody knows the future except for God. So bearing that in mind, I maintain a constant portfolio, using the Vanguard LifeStrategy Growth Fund (VASGX). The managers at Vanguard maintain this asset allocation for me:

  • 50% U.S. Stocks
  • 30% Foreign Stocks
  • 15% US Bonds
  • 5% Foreign Bonds.

I have a few other small holdings but the above is the bulk of our portfolio… in one simple fund.

This portfolio is well diversified and owns just about every company in the U.S. and abroad, and just about every bond. The LifeStrategy Growth fund automatically maintains an 80/20 stock/bond allocation so when stocks fall more gets put into stocks to keep that allocation and vice-versa.

As a result of the crash: I actually moved more into the stock market with the full realization that it can (and probably will) drop some more. I nearly doubled the amount we’re contributing to 401K and Roth accounts and may even dip into savings to maintain that rate. We’ll do our best to hold a higher than normal contribution for as long as we can while the market is down whether it takes months or years or a decade to recover. This is a strategy known as Value Averaging (which I learned from reading Michael E Edleson’s book).

While I was discussing the purchase of more investments with Kris, Eli asked a lot of questions about the stock market. Explaining dividends and stock prices to a 9-year old is a challenge but he understood the concept. So I opened a Custodial account with him, I gave him 3 index funds to choose from: S&P 500, U.S. Total Stock Market, or U.S. Small Caps. He chose to buy $50 of the U.S. Total Stock Market Fund with his own money. I warned him it was likely to drop further. With that in mind he has $55 left he plans to put in later.

Income Stability

Income stability may be a concern. Already many jobs are being lost because of the Coronavirus. Here are ways to prepare for this.

Emergency Fund

The best way to prepare for this is to have an emergency fund which everyone should work towards building coronavirus or not. When Kris and I first got married we and a few of our close friends were the only people I knew without a TV, and without Cable. The $70/month we could have spent on TV went to slowly building up an emergency fund. I also know people who spend $5 on a Starbucks drink daily (that’s $1800/year). I bought a $10 coffee pot from Wal-Mart. My coffee costs $0.25/day ($90/year).

Have plans for benefits you get from your employer

Getting benefits from your employer makes a severance difficult. Friends of mine have suddenly found themselves without a job and unable to afford medical insurance on their own. I purchase my own disability insurance, dental insurance, and life insurance. Health insurance outside of work was too expensive so we joined a medical sharing group. That way if something should happen to my job I’m not scrambling to replace all of those services.

Social Distancing

I avoid crowds as much as possible anyway… being away from people and in the woods or reading a book is how I recharge. I plan to continue to go on as normal. To work, church, errands, and take my vacations as long as there are no travel restrictions. It’s looking like my employer will start allowing us to work from home so I’ll probably take advantage of that and have everyone on my team work from home. Having our entire group work remotely is something I’ve been wanting to try for a long time so I’m excited to see how it will work. When I’m sick I stay home from church or work from home as much as possible so that I don’t infect other people. This would be a great practice for everyone to do. Maybe one good outcome from Coronavirus is people will learn to be considerate of others when they’re sick!

Childcare and School

From the day Kris and I got married we decided as soon as we had kids that she would stop working–despite the fact that she made a lot more than me. We have worked hard to keep our expenses low enough to live on one income by having a smaller house, fewer luxury items, etc. I realize not every family can afford to live on a single income; and Kris had to work the first 2 years we were married or we wouldn’t have made it. But it’s an idea for a goal couples can work towards. Some years our expenses outpace what my salary can bring in, so I also do consulting and a few side businesses which brings in supplemental income.

There are many benefits and intangibles with Kris staying at home. Most importantly we believe that children are a gift from God. The responsibility God granted us to raise Eli is not something I take lightly. There are many things I would delegate to others–mowing the lawn, managing finances, cleaning the house–but teaching our child in the way of the Lord, that is a responsibility God gave to parents.

This does make it easier for us to handle things like schools being closed… for one, we homeschool, so there’s no disruption to our school at all. But even if we didn’t we aren’t scrambling to find childcare. That said, for those that do rely on schools to watch their kids, most companies are understanding and working with employees by giving more flexible schedules or allowing people to work from home to make this work. I’m glad to see that.

How Likely Are You to Die of Corona Virus?

About 90 people are dying of Corona Virus each day Worldwide. Now this number will go up. But to put this in perspective, here are other causes people die from each day:

  1. Abortion – 125,000
  2. Heart Disease – 48,000
  3. Cancer – 24,000
  4. Respiratory Disease – 9,700
  5. Dementia – 6,500
  6. Lower respiratory infections – 6,500
  7. Diarrheal diseases – 4,500
  8. Road Incidents – 3,700
  9. Liver Disease – 3,500
  10. Tuberculosis – 3,300
  11. All over causes – 21,000.

Even if you do catch Coronavirus, it’s not necessarily a death sentence. This COVID-19 Coronavirus Infographic is a great visual.

The number one cause of death in the world continues to be Abortion. I see no headlines in the news about the number of people who died of abortion today. In the media we have an overreaction to possible future deaths by Covid-19 and an under-reaction to actual deaths by abortion.

Kris and I will continue focusing our efforts against abortion and on supporting organizations that help mothers.

Covid-19 is so small of an issue by comparison and has so much money being dumped into it.

We Do Not Know the Future

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”

James 4:13-15

I do not know the future. I could get coronavirus. One day, our investment in the stock market might have turned out to be foolish–it could crash completely. Or perhaps the government will take some of our emergency funds away and give it to people who bought Starbucks drinks all their life. I may die this evening. I don’t know any of that.

The reality is, any of us could die at any moment. I have taken some precautions by having life insurance in case I go first so Kris and Eli have means to take care of themselves.

When considering death and Covid-19 there is a big difference between my perspective which is the Christian perspective, and the perspective of those who do not believe in Christ. I believe in God. I put my faith in Jesus Christ. Death isn’t something I fear because I am confident in my salvation. When I die, I will find myself in the presence of God.

To those who don’t know Christ, all the fear and panic makes sense. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Reaction from Authorities and Organizations

The authorities and organizers are doing things to slow the spread of coronavirus.

  • Every conference I’ve heard of has been canceled.
  • Most executives have banned travel and are mandating that employees work from home; and those that aren’t are allowing people to take more sick days.
  • Travel between many countries has been restricted.
  • President Trump has issued Coronavirus Guidelines for America
  • School is being canceled for many kids.
  • Church services are being canceled.
  • etc.

If Coronavirus turns out to be that bad, all of these changes are going to result in a slower spread of the virus meaning healthcare providers are going to be less swamped. While the authorities aren’t perfect, they are ministers of God. Whether it’s my Boss, the Pastors at my church, the Sheriff, the Governor of Idaho, or President Trump. I intend to carry out their mandates so long as nothing contradicts the Bible and to adhere to their recommendations as much as is convenient.

If the government mandates churches shutdown because of COVID-19, that is not persecution against Christianity.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

Romans 13:1

The Number 1 Reason I’m Not Worried About the Coronavirus

I’m not worried because I know where I will be in eternity because I believe God and trust in Him. Here is what it means to believe in God:

A common misconception I hear is that people think to become a Christian they must be good. Actually, that’s not Christianity at all. Christianity teaches that we cannot be good, God created us in His image. We have sinned against God who is holy. Christianity is not about being good, rather, it’s about recognizing that we are sinners, and believing that Jesus Christ took the punishment of sin for us. So that when God looks at us, he sees Christ’s life instead of ours. We are declared righteous in His eyes despite our sin. If all you’ve heard is that you need to be good to go to heaven, that is dangerously wrong.

Here’s the true gospel:

Scripture says that Jesus is God.

God is eternal. He is all-powerful. He is all knowing. There is nothing that exists apart from Him. He created all things. He is one being and three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). He is many things, but for the purpose of this post, God is Holy. He cannot do evil. He cannot condone evil.

God requires us to be holy.

But we are not. Because we are not holy, we are on the path to eternal punishment. We are in a state of rebellion against God, and all of us sin. I hear two objections to this. 1. “Nobody is perfect.” and 2. “I’m good enough.”

To answer the first objection: Nonsense. Just because nobody is perfect, does not mean we are excused from sin. Your sin is deserving of eternal damnation. And secondly: You are not good. Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? Have you ever hated anyone? Have you ever looked at a man or woman with lust? Have you ever lied, even once? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever wanted something that’s not yours? Have you ever gotten drunk? If you answered yes to any of those questions you are a sinner. I’d wager to say you’re a blasphemer, adulterer, liar, thief, coveter, and a drunkard. Still think you’re good?

This doesn’t mean we can’t do kindness or good deeds to other humans. But we are not capable of pleasing God on our own.

God’s holiness and justice demand that all sin be punished by death and eternity in Hell. While you may think this is unfair. Remember, we are made in God’s image which means He holds us to a high standard. The magnitude of our sin–as people who know better and as beings made in God’s own image–against a Holy and Just God is far more than we can comprehend.

Jesus Christ came to earth as a man (this is what we celebrate on Christmas). He came to live a perfect life, and to die on the cross on behalf of us, to pay the penalty, the ransom for our sins. Which is death. This means God punished Jesus for our sins, instead of punishing those who believe. A common misconception is that Jesus’s death was a victory of Satan. That is not the case. God sent Jesus to earth to die for our sins because He loves us. Christ died, was buried, then God raised him from the dead.

That is the gospel. By believing that Jesus is God, He died on the cross, and paid the penalty for your sins you will have eternal life. The flip side of the coin for those who do not believe is far worse.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 6:23 ESV

I guarantee you, eternal life is nothing like what you see in the movies. It’s not going to be playing harps in the clouds.

An answer to one final objection:

A number of my unbelieving friends have told me they’ll admit that Jesus was a good man, but they don’t believe that He is God. That’s ridiculous. If you cannot call Him God, you cannot call him good. If Jesus is not God, he is a liar or a lunatic. But not good. A quote from C.S. Lewis’s book:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to…. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Pages 55-56.

I believe in God, and trust in His sovereignty over all things, including the coronavirus. And that’s why I’m not worried.

Update March 21, 2020. Thanks for reading. If you like this this post please share it! It’s been flagged as having sensitive content so it won’t get much traffic otherwise. – Ben

AMD 8-Core EPYC Home Server Build

AMD’s new EPYC 3201 is a good processor for a near-silent server …without sacrificing performance.

I saw good price on an open box Supermicro M11SDV-8CT-LN4F. It includes an embedded AMD EPYC 3201 8-core processor. I’ve been wanting to try an AMD build for awhile so I grabbed it. This CPU was favorably benchmarked by ServeTheHome matching performance of several Xeon CPUs with a much higher 60-80W TDP. The EPYC 3201 performs just as well (and better in some cases) …but at only 30W TDP.

I don’t really care about power usage. 30W vs 80W might cost me a dollar or two more per year in electricity. But that lower heat makes a difference in cooling requirements. And to me that means less fan noise. You can build a near-silent server with an EPYC 3201 without having to get into anything fancy like liquid cooling.

The last time I had an AMD computer–was 6 years ago. They’ve really been behind Intel in performance for awhile but in the last few years I’ve seen some much better CPUs out of them and thought I’d give it a try.

This an update to my Datacenter in a Box Post which is based on the X10SDV Xeon-D Platform.

I’m planning to use this server in my homelab to expand my Proxmox Virtual Environment from 1 to 2 servers making them into a cluster.

AMD EPYC Server Build Parts List

AMD EPYC Server Build
  • SuperChassis 721TQ-250B. (Amazon) This is my go-to Mini-ITX chassis–every server I build is based on this case. Small compact, includes 4-hotswap drive bays. For my house I prefer these cases over racks because the fan is a large diameter so it can get a lot of airflow without making much noise. Even iXSystems uses this case for their small FreeNAS units.
  • Supermicro M11SDV-8CT-LN4F (Amazon | NewEgg) Motherboard. This includes an AMD EPYC 3201 8-core processor. 4 SATA ports, and Quad gigabit NICs.
  • Samsung DDR4 Registered ECC Memory 32GB (2 x 16GB) (Amazon)
  • Intel Optane M10 16GB (Amazon) in the NVMe slot. These are cheap (sometimes less than $15 pre-owned) and will be used as a ZIL for ZFS write caching. In an application where every write requires a sync (VMware and NFS) I might spend a little more, but for Proxmox this will be fine.
  • Noctua NF-A6x25 PWM (Amazon) – a little extra air flow over the CPU
  • 4 x HDDs. I used some extra drives I had lying around, but if buying new I would suggest the Western Digital Red Pros. See my Hard Drives for ZFS Post


How to assemble AMD EPYC Server

Time needed: 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Assemble all the parts for a Supermicro AMD EPYC Microserver Build. This is a simple build. In fact Eli did most of it–I just supervised.

  1. Remove cover from case

    4 thumb screws at the back, then push the blue tab to release.

  2. Remove the motherboard tray from the chassis.

    5 Screws in the back secure it.

  3. So, Step 3 is here to tell you we forgot the backplate, so complete Step 8, then Proceed to Step 4.

  4. Install Motherboard onto the tray

    Line up the motherboard with the 4 posts, and screw it in. A little bag of screws titled “MB” should have come with the chassis.

  5. Install Memory

    If using 1 stick of RAM populate the closest blue slot.
    If using 2 sticks of RAM (which is what I will be doing) populate the 2 blue slots.

    M11SDV Motherboard

  6. Install NVMe drive

    (Yellow arrow above). Now the board should look like this:

    M11SDV Motherboard with Memory and NVMe SSD

  7. Slide Tray into case… Oh no! We forgot the backplate!


    Supermicro Motherboard Tray

  8. Install the Backplate…

    Take the motherboard back out of the case, unscrew it from the 4 posts, install the backplate (easiest to snap it into the back of the tray). Install the motherboard again, and slide …actually, leave it out, because step 9 is easier with it out.

    Motherboard with Backplate

  9. Remove the Front Cover


    (So, this step is not needed unless you need more airflow over the PCI area, we ended up doing step 20, 21, & 22 instead).

    You’ll find it secured by 4 black tabs like these…


    Black tabs holding front cover

  10. Install the Noctua Fan

    (Again, you’ll probably want to follow steps 20, 21, and 22 instead)


    The AMD CPU uses a “passive” heatsink, even though it’s low TDP it still needs some air. Take the 4 rubber feet and pull them through the holes from the front of the case.

    Supermicro Noctua Fan

    Then pull them through the holes on the fan. Make sure the arrows on the fan are pointing towards the CPU. Now you can slide the motherboard in and put the front cover back on.

  11. Label the hard drive trays

    Always start at 0. So label them with the 0, 1, 2, & 3 stickers. Burn the sticker for 4. You don’t need it. Don’t label the drives 1, 2, 3, 4. You’ll know why when a drive fails and you need to locate it.

  12. Plug in the case fan (black, yellow, red, blue wire) to the FANA port and SATA cables (red) between the motherboard and backplane.


    I should note that when plugging in the SATA cables use the reference on the backplane and match it with the port numbers on the motherboard. SATA port 0 on the motherboard should plug into port 0 on the backplane and so on. Don’t mix them up or you’ll have a hard time locating a failed drive.

    Motherboard Wires

  13. Plug in everything else.


    Just plug in all the wires. Noctua Fan, DC Power, AC power, USB Header (blue).

    Wire up motherboard

  14. Power Test

    At this point I plug it in to power to make sure things come up.

  15. Install Hard Drives


    Use the HDD screws that came with the case. Install 4 screws per drive. Then slide them into the bay.

    Hotswap Hard Drive Tray with drive installed

  16. Cover any open holes in the backplate and plug Ethernet into IPMI port.

    Backplate holes…. I bought this motherboard as an open box so somebody punched out all the holes… this is bad because it messes up the airflow. Cover those up with electrical tape.
    Now plug in the IPMI port (circled in yellow). This is remote management. You will not need to hook up monitor, keyboard and mouse. It’s all done via Ethernet.

    IPMI Port

  17. Plug in Ethernet, Power, and Determine IPMI IP


    Plug in the IPMI port, then plug in power (You don’t need to power on yet, just need power to the board so the IPMI interface lights up). Check your router’s DHCP for the IP of the latest device and that should be your IPMI device. Connect to that IP. E.g. https://10.2.7.58 Default credentials are ADMIN / ADMIN (I suggest changing this).

  18. Supermicro IPMI and KVM over IP


    Here you can control your server remotely from your chair while sitting by the fire as if you were physically present. You can power it on, power it off, reset it, bring up a remote KVM, mount an ISO on your computer and boot off of it, etc.

    Supermicro Remote Management IPMI

    There are 3 options for IPMI:
    a. iKVM/HTML5 – You just use a browser. This is the simplest but lacks the ability to remotely mount ISOs from your computer.
    b. Supermicro’s IPMIView tool (must run it as Administrator). This tool can also scan the network for Supermicro IPMI devices.
    c. Use Console Redirection. This is what I usually do. This requires Java 8 LTS. I would use AdoptOpenJDK 8 or Amazon Curreto 8. You may need to associate the .jnlp file with javaws.exe.

    Also, there’s a Supermicro IPMI Android App you can install to have complete control of your server from your phone. The Android app can also scan the network for Supermicro IPMI devices.

    As a final note, I should mention you typically don’t install security updates to keep the out of band management interface updated. The IPMI port shouldn’t ever be public, and ideally should be on a management VLAN away from the rest of your LAN traffic.

  19. Burn In Load Testing

    The next step is to load up something to burn in the hardware–load test it to make sure nothing fails. I like to mine for Cryptocurrency such as Gridcoin or Monero for 1 week. If there are no failures we can consider the server ready. Make sure none of the drives fail, fan noise is tolerable at load, temperature remains okay, check the sensor logs in the IPMI interface to make sure there are no temperature alerts or ECC errors.

    After 24 hours I checked on it and the fan noise and temperature were higher than I’d like. The CPU was at 84C, which is too hot (in my opinion) and what’s worse is the CPU fan is running at 2400RPM making too much noise trying to keep it cool!

    Supermicro Phone app showing Temp High

    We’ll need to find a better cooling solution.

  20. 3D Print a Fan Mount for the M11SDV

    Download a 3D printable STL file for the M11SDV 60x25mm CPU fan holder from Thingiverse and print it out. I used an Ender 3 Pro.

    M11SDV CPU Fan Holder

  21. Install Noctua Fan in CPU Holder


    Slide out the motherboard (wires should be long enough not to have to disconnect anything) and install the CPU holder.

    I glued the legs to the screws using a hot glue gun.

    Noctua Fan in 3D Printed CPU Holder for M11SDV

  22. Slide the motherboard back in and power on.

    3D Printed CPU Fan Holder with Noctua

    Now the readings show 52C with a fan speed of 1200RPM. Much better!

The M11SDV AMD EPYC 3201 server build runs quiet… I am not using a noise reducer on the Noctua fan and I can’t hear it over the ambient noise in my office –unless I put my ear up to the case. This is the perfect server for homelabs where you’re trying to keep the noise level down but still have plenty of compute power.

To compare CPU temperature and fan speed with the Xeon-D, I have three nearly identical server builds except for the different motherboards. Just taking a quick inventory of the IPMI sensors:

  • X10SDV – Xeon D-1540 8 cores – CPU 20% – 74C – 1400RPM , 3100RPM,
  • X10SDV – Xeon D-1518 4 cores – CPU 50% – 78C – 1200RPM, 4900RPM
  • AMD EPYC 3201 8 cores – CPU 80% – 50C – 700RPM, 1200RPM

Now to be fair, the AMD is a generation newer. However even with the latest gen Xeon processors the AMD EPYC requires much less cooling (meaning less noise).

The AMD EPYC is now my favorite microserver CPU.

That’s the build, now I need to finish the burn in test. Next up is a followup with a post on Proxmox.

2019 in Retrospect

We were locked outside. The sliding glass door had locked itself upon being closed. Perhaps it had been slammed just a little too hard. Minutes earlier the kids had shot off poppers. We were celebrating the new year standing out on the back deck; 20 feet off the ground at my in-laws house. It was time to go in and send the kids to bed. That is when we realized we were stuck outside. The sliding glass door wouldn’t budge. There was nobody inside to unlock it. That is how my 2019 started.

Things got better from there.

The adventures continued. I realize middle of February is a bit late for a 2019 Review–but better later than never.

Road Trip in Idaho

Homelab and Tech Projects

If you’re interested in building a Homelab see my Homelab Ideas post.

  • Setup a Proxmox server (blog post on this coming soon!), I’m impressed–my favorite feature is it allows you to run VMs and Containers side-by-side under one control pane making containers as easy to manage as VMs. Also, it natively supports ZFS as a storage backend. Compared to my FreeNAS on VMware server Proxmox is a much simpler setup if you’re just planning on one server for hyper-converged storage. The containers give it higher density, and it has better VM storage performance since it can go direct to disks instead of relying on network storage (this is not to say that I don’t also run my VMware+FreeNAS box, I still love that setup, but it’s good to explore options).
  • Replaced my pfSense firewall with a UniFi USG. My networking equipment (WiFi, Switches, and Router) is now 100% UniFi and I like to see everything under one UI.
  • Containers. I deployed a lot more Proxmox Linux containers than VMs.
  • I’ve been a bit skeptical of Smart devices. We paid extra to get a dryer without Bluetooth back in 2018. But I bought two Smart Devices in 2019:
    • Upgraded our Thermostat to a Nest. It didn’t really save us that much… it appears to have lowered our gas usage by about 4% but it was nearly free after a power company rebate. I think it does a great job at turning down the heat when we are away (I almost always forgot to turn the old one down).
    • When I replaced my Garage Door opener (more on that below) I bought a MyQ Garage Door opener. This has been beneficial…I used to accidentally leave the garage door open all day (and sometimes all night) and now it will alert me if it’s been open more than 15 minutes. But if I miss the alert I set it to automatically close itself at the end of the day. Well worth it. I realize this increases the chance of getting hacked…but when you forget to close it all the time I think THAT risk is higher.

House Projects

This was the year of DIY house projects. I do not consider myself a handyman, but I managed to get some projects done:

  • Replaced our old ceiling fans. The ugly fan in the living room was down to three blades (I think Kris broke the blade on purpose) so I had to bring it down to two blades so it would balance…. it was time to replace it.
  • Replaced the old track-lighting fixtures with LED fixtures in the living room, halls, and kitchen.
  • Organized and Cleaned the Garage. Installed Craftsman VersaTrack and Pegboards along the walls and made lots of trips to the dump.
  • Organized my tools and computer parts… I used to spend half my time on home or computer projects looking around for tools or parts–now they’re in toolboxes! It was expensive to buy enough, but well worth it. I like to systematize so I ended up standardizing on DeWalt TSTAK and Craftsman VersaStack toolboxes (picture of the DeWalt TSTAK below) which stack and latch to each other… what sold me on these is the toolboxes from both brands (made by the same company obviously since both brands are owned by Stanley Black & Decker) are compatible with each other! I can find one brand or the other at pretty much any hardware store.
  • Bought a Craftsman Power tool set–the batteries on my trusty 12-year old DeWalt drill died. When I went to get new batteries at Home Depot it turns out they don’t sell 14.4V batteries anymore so I had to get a new drill! I went back home to research drills. I realized it was much better value in the long-run to get a combo-set and you get a a whole bunch of power tools along with the drill! So I went all out and got an 8-tool Craftsman set. It turns out I’ve found a reason to use every one of them.
  • Replaced the garage door opener. Our old one was was failing to close far enough periodically… I had “fixed” the gears several times but they’d start skipping against each other after several months. I have a rule that if I have to “fix” something 3 times and it needs to be fixed again I replace it.
  • Replaced the hot water heater. I’m a big fan of paying people to do things I don’t want to do. But I could not find a hot water heater guy who would come to my house with any sense of urgency. I even took a vacation day just to sit at home and wait for a plumber who didn’t show up! After 3 days of no hot water and calling multiple places… Out of desperation I ran down to Home Depot, bought a new Hot Water Heater, watched some how to install a hot water heater videos, and installed it myself. Turned out it wasn’t that hard.
  • Re-routed the Sump Pump discharge–it was going out a hose under my garage door so I had to leave the garage door open an inch during the snow melt and rainy seasons. Plus the water just ran down my driveway and ice up. Now I’ve got PVC going out the side of the house under the sidewalk and out through a hole in the curb to the street.
  • Failed at the Front Door–Not everything was a success. Our front storm door got damaged in a storm and now it catches on the frame when closing and I’ve failed about 100 times trying to fix it. Maybe this year.

Books Read in 2019

My main focus of study for 2019 was Entrepreneurship. I enjoyed the $100 Startup, The 4-Hour Workweek, 80/20, Authority, and the Blogger’s Simple Guide to Taxes.

I pick a subject outside of computers each year and try to read 5 books on it. This is just an attempt to stay well-rounded in other areas and sometimes I pick subjects that are practical to my circumstances. In the past years I’ve chosen topics or people such as: Finance, Investing, Photography, Firearms, Archery, Leadership, Management, Real Estate, Early U.S. History, Charles Babbage, GK Chesterton, etc.

Books Read in 2019 From Goodreads
Books completed in 2019

Wrote a Book

LastPass Guide eBook

I started writing my first Book, the LastPass Guide. Kris and Eli helped me a lot. I had it nearly completed by the end of the year but I took a break from it mid-December to make a trip down to California and would pick it back up in January.

The book turned out great. I realized at the end of the year that I spent too much time writing the book compared to marketing. I made a quick course correction and starting focusing on marketing the month before launch and decided to make my 2020 reading topic Marketing.

Blogging 2019 Review

Blogging is my favorite hobby. In 2019….

  • WordPress says b3n.org has surpassed 1 million visitors/visits/hits/impressions?! I’m not sure what this number means… who knows. But I’m just happy to have a million of something!
  • I had been blogging for 18 years.
  • After much research I switched my email list over to ConvertKit from WordPress’s built in email list. My main reason for choosing ConvertKit is it is designed specifically for creators, writers, and bloggers. This was one of the best changes I’ve made in 2019… after following some of their suggestions my Newsletter started growing and is still growing rapidly. I’m still a believer that email is one of the best forms of communications second only to face-to-face. Email is the best asynchronous method by far. It’s the one form of communication that’s ubiquitous, not controlled by a single entity and is a federated and open standard.
  • Moved hosting from a DIY DigitalOcean server to fully managed hosting at Cloudways (still on DigitalOcean) so I can focus on blogging and let them worry about security updates and patches and performance tuning. The pricing is high so I may move it back at some point but I’m happy where it is for now.
  • Put a lot of effort into improving page load performance–still a lot of room for improvement but I went from a Pagespeed score of 67 to 99 for desktops. Still need to improve mobile. I experimented with AMP but those experiments were mostly failures.

Other 2019 Highlights

  • Dr. Jason Lisle came up for a conference on Astronomy.
  • Kris planned a trip a to Mount St. Helens and we met up with Paul Taylor for some Excursions. This was one of my favorite parts of 2019.
  • We got some Snow Shoes and enjoyed hiking around in the snow!
  • Eli took 3rd place at the Pinewood Derby Contest at Gospel Kidz (similar to Awana). I used a jigsaw to cut out his design but on the rest of it Eli did most of the work himself and had some creative ideas like drilling holes in the wheels to lighten them.
  • We bought a 3D Printer and had a blast learning how to use it… Eli was able to design his own gears in Tinkercad and print them out.
  • We finished up the year with a trip to California… but this time didn’t lock ourselves outside.

Eli walking in Snow Shoes

Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Solomon (Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV)

LastPass Guide Almost Done

I’m almost finished with the LastPass Guide eBook! …I just have to write it.

Actually, it is nearly done! It’s exactly 128 pages. But I’m going to have to write one more page causing a buffer overflow!

Launch Date is set for: February 8th

I just finished the LastPass Guide Landing Page! This is the first landing page I’ve ever made so let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions.

Also if you haven’t read it yet, here is the original announcement about writing the LastPass Guide.

First Physical Prototype… I should note I’m not planning to sell physical copies, but I was curious what it would look like printed. If you do want a physical copy you can print it out and bind it yourself. Here is a prototype Kris made:

LastPass Guide First Prototype

If you decide to print it out, it is against my wishes that you should do so in black and white. I did a lot of work to make this in full color so please print it in color!

LastPass Guide Prototype in Color

Overall thoughts on Progress so Far

It’s been a lot of work–but the feedback from reviewers has been positive. I’m happy with the eBook and I know people who read it will benefit from it. It turned out a lot better than I had envisioned.

It’s been a fun project, once it’s out I’ll try to post a retrospective about the challenges, the process, what I learned and what I would do differently for the next book.

Remaining Tasks

Here’s what I have left… hoping to get these finished up this weekend.

  • [ ] Complete final round of reviews / edits
  • [ ] Photography
  • [ ] Run several test orders through
  • [ ] Launch to email subscribers
  • [ ] Launch to general public

Well, that’s it for now.

Snowplow Proof Mailbox

How to make a Snowplow Proof Mailbox

Last Saturday our mailbox was taken out by a snow plow! This was a job for something besides duct tape (although that did cross my mind).

Broken mailbox arm after plow hit

I ran down to the hardware store but couldn’t find a support arm that would fit the post. I couldn’t find any mailbox support arms. Actually I’m not good at finding things in the stores. Kris used to send me to the grocery store. But after wondering around every aisle I’d return home with the bad news that the grocery store doesn’t carry whatever it was she was looking for. Kris doesn’t send me to the store very often now days. Anyway, I couldn’t find mailbox parts. But I did find hinges and a container of bungee cords! Perfect. If I’m going to have to rebuild it myself I may as well build it to survive a snow plow hit.

Equipment used

  • Circular Saw
  • Impact Drill, Drill/Driver, and bits
  • Speed Square
  • Deck screws and 2×4 left over from the Tree House.
  • Bungee Cords
  • Hinges

DIY Snow Plow Proof Mailbox

Sketch of snowplow proof mailbox

The first step for any project is to draw up a detailed plan on a paper napkin. But if you don’t have a napkin the side of a cardboard box in the garage will do in a pinch.

I cut and mounted two small 2×4 pieces to the bottom of the mailbox (this wasn’t exactly part of my sketch but sometimes you have to improvise).

First steps building snow plow proof mailbox

Next I made a few more cuts to build a triangle mounting arm. Attached everything with deck screws.

Building a Snow Plow Proof Mailbox

Drilled some holes through the steel post to mount the hinges on.

Added a partially drilled screw on the right-side of the arm to hook the bungee cords.

Now when the snow plow hits our mailbox it will swing on the hinges and the bungee cords will pull it back into position. It’s fault tolerant!

It may not be the prettiest design since I threw it together at the last minute, but as someone who isn’t much of a handyman I’m proud of it. At least it will get us through winter.

Motherboard Selection for Intel Computer Desktop Builds

The following is a guest post from Jeff Yesensky:

So, you’re building your first PC, or perhaps even your second. You’ve done your research on all the fancy upgrades, all the new toys. Everything is plugged into your build on pcpartpicker.com. Finally, your ultimate gaming machine is coming together. The price is a little more than you wanted to spend, but hey, those GeForce RTX 2080’s just aren’t dropping in price like you hoped. You have your RAM, video card, power supply, the fan that lights up, and most importantly your Intel processor. The whole reason for the new build. You hear Captain Kirk from Star Trek in the back of your head, Scotty, we need MORE SPEED! Now the part you are dreading is looming ahead. The one component that no matter how much research you did, you felt like you were just being tossed in circles like a rookie. Instead of descriptions, all you see are fancy names like Maximus Hero, ProX, Aorus Ultra, Phantom Gaming, Pro Carbon and many more. You call up your friend Ben. “Ben, I need help! What motherboard should I buy”. In horror you hear the words you’ve dreaded… Ben: “I don’t have time to build PC’s anymore, so I don’t know”. The world is crashing down and your perfect build is fading away. In terror, you look at what models your chip is compatible to. They range from $70 to $500! Which one do I buy? Will Scotty from engineering want the $500 one or is that expensive motherboard like a gold-plated HDMI cable; Nice looking, but an utter waste of money. You need help. You need guidance. You need someone to tell you it’s going to be ok. You need a Motherboard!

Where to Start…

So, where do you start. Let’s start with the basics. What Motherboard will actually work with my chip? Square peg in a square hole and a round peg in a round hole. Easy question, right? I wish…

Which Generation?

At this point, you should at least know what Intel processor chip you are going to buy. Don’t know yet? Well, fine, I’ll do a post on that one too, but later. This is about the dreaded motherboard (mobo for short). I am going to focus my guide to only the last three generations of Intel Chips.

Latest 9th Generation Desktop Chips
Intel’s Latest 9th Gen Chips

Last Three generations…

The “I don’t have a lot of money right now” Generation. AKA 7th Generation Core

The “I’m all about getting the best speed for the best value” Generation. AKA 8th Generation Core

The “I’m blowing my life savings on this build” Generation. AKA 9th Generation Core

Confused which generation your chip is? Don’t be confused by the names they use. Intel loves names and code names, problem is they use names that are too similar to each other and they don’t always work. Don’t get me started with code names.

  • 9th generation Core = Coffee Lake Refresh
  • 8th generation Core = Coffee Lake/Kaby Lake Refresh/Whiskey Lake
  • 7th generation Core = Kaby Lake/Skylake/Apollo Lake

See what I mean? Super lame Intel. If you’re going for cool code names, don’t end them all with Lake..

Here is an easier way… Ignore the Code names completely. Just use the number system.

  • I9-9900K, I5-9400F, etc. are all I#-9000s, 9 being the 9th generation
  • I7-8700, I3-8100, etc. are all the I#-8000s, 8 being the 8th generation
  • I9-7980XE, I7-7700, etc. are all the I#-7000s, 7 being the 7th generation
Code Names Board Game
Hours of family fun!

A MOMENT OF REFLECTION – For real, ignore the code names. They will get you in trouble. It’s easy to switch a Coffee Lake for a Kaby Lake. If you like Code Names, stick with the board game Codenames!

So which generation is your Chip? Ah good. The 8th generation. Well played. Ok ok, if it’s not 8th, your still ok in my book.

Which Socket?

LGA 1151 CPU Socket
Intel LGA 1151 CPU Socket

Your generation will also tell you which socket to get. Luckily this one is pretty easy. They named it

two VERY distinctive sockets. 1151 Rev 1 and 1151 Rev 2… Errr umm… Come on Intel…Strike two.

Don’t worry, I still got you.

Which Series?

1151 Rev 1 – That’s your 100 and 200 Series – Wait, what’s a series? Once again, ignore it. Just know that 7th Gen and older is Series 100 and 200. But watch out. Skylake (7th gen) is series 200 while Kaby Lake (7th gen) is Series 100 with bios update… In fact… What are we doing?!? I’m not going down this rabbit hole. Just spend the money, buy a 8th or 9th gen chip and boom, series 300. For real. Get away from 7th gen. Your computer is worth more then a 7th gen chip.

1151 Rev 2 – That’s your 300 series – Translated into simple speak, your 8th and 9th generation chips

Once again, thanks Intel for making my life harder.

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER NOTE – Yes, there are some chips in these generation that use the LGA 2066 socket. Do me a favor and pick a new processor chip if thats the case. If your spending 2k on a chip, you shouldn’t be taking my advice.

Which Chipset?

What you should know so far…

  • Generation
  • Series
  • Socket

For example: If you’re going for the I7-8700k, then you know it’s an 8th generation, 300 series, 1151 Rev 2 Socket. Perfect. See how generation tells you other two items?

Now we can finally figure out the Chipset. What’s a chipset? To way oversimplify things… It’s the motherboard configuration to accept your processor chip. When you are shopping for motherboards, the one thing in common you see after all the names is a series of letters and numbers. For example, you will see codes like Z390, B365, H310, Q370, B150, H170, Etc. etc. etc. These are your Chipsets. This is your first real step in narrowing down your motherboard.

Intel Z390 Chipset Diagram
Z390 Chipset Diagram – Don’t worry, we will get to all the other stuff.

MOMENT OF CAUTION: Be careful when you see a motherboard listed as 1151, or 8th generation motherboard. These aren’t always accurate depending on your processor that you choose. For example, it may say 1151 socket but not tell you if it’s Rev 1 or Rev 2. Stick to your Chipset Code. Decide that first.

So, this part is easy; with generation, series and socket, you get exactly one Chipset. Wait… what? No? Arrgggg. Ben why did you forsake me?

Luckily, we can at least easily identify which chipset goes to which series of chips.

Chipsets are always numbered the same as their series number. Well not exactly, but you will see what I mean.

  • A series 300 chip goes in a H310 or a B360 or a Z390… Letter3XX
  • A series 200 chip goes in a B250 or Q270 or Z270… Letter2XX
  • A series 100 chip goes in a B150 or Q150 or Z170… Letter1XX

ANOTHER PITFALL – Once again, some 7th gen chips need bios updates to work with their correct series. For real, just stick with 8th or 9th so I can stop warning you about it.

– From here on out we will assume you got smart and are going with an 8th or 9th gen Chip.

So that narrows down the Intel Chipsets to the following:

B360, Z370, Z390, H310, H370,

CAUTION LAVA PIT – Be careful, B365 doesn’t follow the rule. It’s actually series 200 for some strange dumb reason. Strike three intel. Strike three.

Which Series 300 Chipset?

ASUS Strix Z390 Motherboard
ASUS Strix Z390-E Gaming LGA 1151 ATX Motherboard

So, we have five chipsets to narrow down. You can see the full comparison at Intel’s website.

For the sake of speed, which is what I am assuming that you want, let’s cut that down to four. Goodbye H310. It’s a budget chipset, not for building a gaming machine or pro workstation. For the sake of a dedicated video card (for gaming or for multiple monitors at your workstation), goodbye B360 as well.

So now that we are down to three, here is the breakdown. I’m leaving price out of it at first because at this point, you need what you need and want what you want.

  • H370 – No Overclocking – USB 3.1
  • Z370 – Overclocking – Multiple GPUs – No USB 3.1
  • Z390 – Overclocking – Multiple GPUs – USB 3.1

My thoughts on these options:

Overclocking – With the speed of chips now a days, overclocking is, in my opinion, unnecessary. Just remember if you want to overclock, your chip needs to be unlocked K-series (Example I7-8700K)

USB 3.1 – At twice the speed, it sure makes file transfers faster. If you don’t plan to transfer a lot of files though, may not matter. In fact, most systems won’t even take advantage of the full 10Gbps anyway. It will probably be more important in a few more years, but not yet.

MAX GPU for Bitcoin mining
Bitcoin mining? MAX GPU

Multiple GPUs – Not needed if you get a good single GPU like a sweet 2080 RTX

Oversimplification: H370 is your non-gaming, power workstation mobo. Z370 is your gaming Mobo. Z390 is your upgraded gaming Mobo.

Price wise: H370 cheapest, Z370 Middle, Z390 High

STEP-OFF-A-CLIFF CAUTION – All three support integrated Wi-Fi, but very few Z370 motherboards actually have it.

WHICH MOTHERBOARD?

Now that we have narrowed it down to three types of motherboards, we can now open up Amazon or Newegg and actually go search for some mobos. Let’s try Newegg. Open up Newegg. Let’s see what happens when we type in Z390 boards… Yea, that’s too many results… However, we can use Newegg search to narrow down more of what we want.

Let’s go through some Specs under the Intel Motherboards.

CPU Socket Type – Hey you learned about this. Let’s stick with the LGA 1151 (300 Series) ← How nice of Newegg to tell us which Series. Cool, we are down to 999+ boards.

Motherboard size comparison
Form Factor – AKA Size of Motherboard

Form Factor – This is the size of your motherboard. Simply put, the size motherboard you want is dependent on the size of case you want to build. If you are reading this guide, it probably means that you’re a part time builder, not a hardcore enthusiast who’s going to build a custom $15k walking death machine. So let’s stick with the ATX.

Manufacture – Stick with the name brands. ASUS, MSI, Gigabyte, ASRock. No use blowing up your computer with a no name brand.

Chipset – Hey you know this one too. Select either your H370, Z370 or Z390. If you pick Z390 we are now down to about 500 boards.

Condition – New, never buy used. Like my ole pappy use to say. Used is just a useful way to inherit someone else’s problems.

Here on out, we are going to be talking about things that exceed this guide’s purpose. It’s items like… What do you want in a build? There are no wrong answers after this. Your board will work with the chip you have. Just depends on how you want it to work.

M.2 – Do you want 1, 2 or 3 available slots? (I think two is fine) but I would leave unchecked to see your options. Ultra vs normal? Blah marketing ploy.

1975 IBM Computer
1975 IBM Computer – $19,975.00

Price – You need what you need and want what you want.

Number of Memory Slots – Always 4 in my book, even though I’ve only ever used two slots. Don’t ask…

Maximum Memory Support – Doesn’t matter. Leave blank. We just need 16 GB right now anyway.

Onboard Video Chipset, HDMI, PS/2, DisplayPort – These options don’t matter. Your video card will take care of this stuff.

SATA – Always try to get at least six. Your M.2 will eat up some of these lanes and you want plenty of room to run that raid. As for speed, 6GB/s is standard here.

Lan Speed – 10/100/1000 is fine, nothing really supports /2500 yet. Leave blank.

PCI Express – Doesn’t matter, by time you hit this point, the boards we have listed will have enough slots. Especially if you are going for just one video card and onboard wireless

USB – Up to you but will affect price. I would leave options unchecked and see where the dice land on these… Unless for some crazy reason you are set on 8 USB 3.1 ports. Then power to you player.

Cool looking motherboard back panel
Always check out the back panel to make sure it looks cool enough!

Wireless – I would say yes on this one, but it’s a personal preference. If you have access to a hard line, then you may not want to spend the extra dough. However, it’s always nice to have backup in case dog chews up your Cat6 cable.

Audio – Personal preference. I like my headphones, so I don’t wake up the kids, so I hardly ever pay attention here.

No other options matter.

Final Selection

Hopefully at this point you are down to about a dozen or so boards. Most differences at this point between the boards are dependent on the items above.

For example, you may see 6 boards that have Wi-Fi and 6 that don’t. It’s up to you to choose at this point. Any and all of them will work with that chip you have. Let’s look at some final selection points to hopefully narrow down your choice. After all, there still may be a difference of $100.00 or so dollars between these motherboards.

– Pitfalls and Price spikes

Motherboard marketing example
This MSI GODLIKE GAMING motherboard turns you into an actual gaming god! Believe it!

Motherboard Names: Whatever you do, all we care about is the specs. Don’t let fancy names like “Phantom”, “Maximum”, or especially “Gaming” pull you in any one direction. The only thing that “Gaming” name does for a motherboard is add to the cost. Don’t get suckered by the title “Gaming”. It’s the same as gold plated HDMI cables. Fancy sounding, utterly useless. Once again, ignore the name, check the specs.

Letters or Numbers after Chipset: Let’s say you see a name like Z390-E or Z390-A. These letters are the manufactures designation, not Chipset identifier. For example. Z390-A from manufacturer X may be the non Wi-Fi model, while the Z390-B from manufacturer X may be the Wi-Fi model. Once again, think of these like names, ignore and pay attention to the specs.

Unique Features to the Motherboards, AKA Fluff to sell motherboards for more than they are worth: You will see each company try to sell their motherboards for more money than they are worth by selling you Unique Features. I have learned a unique feature is a distant second to an easy bios to navigate (Navigating Bios, perhaps another time). Time to make fun of some motherboards.

Super Alloy Marketing Gimmick
ASRock. Good brand, needs better gimmick.

ASRock – Super Alloy. This motherboard won’t be stopping bullets. Don’t care.

MSI – Audio Boost. To blow your ears away… literally…? Don’t care.

ASUS – SafeSlot Core fortified PCIe slots… Just in case your video cards decide to party… Don’t care

GigaByte – DualBIOS.. When one bios is for babies… Don’t care

BIOS
Why buy one Bios, when you can have two for twice the price!

There are tons and tons of other useless unique features. My recommendation. Skip this section. For the most part it’s all gimmicks.

DON’T STEP IN LAVA EXAMPLE: Example of up-selling unique features. I don’t want to diss any particular motherboard too much, but you will find a $150 motherboard vs a $250 motherboard. The only difference? Well get this. $150 motherboard has better specs, but nothing listed under unique features. The $250 motherboard, has lesser specs, is named “gaming” and has about 20 unique features, none of which will increase gaming performance. No brainer; get the better $150 motherboard . Spending more money does not equal better motherboard .

FINAL TEST – Identify!

And no, I’m not recommending this motherboard. You recommend your own motherboard.

ASUS ROG Strix Z390-F Gaming LGA 1151 (300 Series) Intel Z390 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 ATX Intel Motherboard – Identify!

ASUS ROG Strix Z390-F Gaming LGA 1151 (300 Series) Intel Z390 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 ATX Intel Motherboard

  • Generation – 8th or 9th
  • Socket – LGA 1151 (v2 since we know the Series)
  • Series – 300
  • Chipset – Intel Z390
  • Size – ATX
  • Brand – ASUS

That’s all we know from this title from this motherboard. I crossed out the completely useless info you should be ignoring to know if this motherboard will work with your 8th or 9th gen Intel Chip.

You now know everything you need to know. If you didn’t learn it here, it’s more than likely not important. Go out, get an awesome motherboard between $100 and $200 and build your baby. Only thing I ask is that you follow the golden rule of building. You always, always NAME a computer you build yourself. It’s the rule. (Just like my latest child, Echo, His older brother Titan and the grandparents Beast and Big Birtha) Happy building!

In His Service,

Jeff

PS. For those like Ben, who are too busy running awesome websites and don’t have time to research what motherboard they want. Here are two randomly chosen motherboard that will work just fine.

Ryzen 7
Uhhh Jeff…. Now what!?!

If you like this and want more computer building posts or would like a tutorial on AMD motherboards, be sure to let Ben know so he lets me do another post. Until then.

My First Book | LastPass Guide | Coming Soon

I’m writing a book! I started around July and figured it would take between 6 and 12 months to complete. Turns out I made pretty good progress and will likely be finished in January or February. I plan to self-publish and sell it right here on b3n.org.

This is a book cover for my first book, LastPass Guide.  A Step by Step Guide to Managing Your Passwords.

The book is called LastPass Guide (although I’m testing other titles), it is a step-by-step guide to teach people how to use the LastPass Password Manager. I’ve helped many people with LastPass and I know where most get tripped up–I often wish there was a guide I could point people at and I finally decided to write one.

It is simple enough a non-technical person could pick it up and not only become proficient in using LastPass; but also have a good foundation of security best practices by the end. The book also covers security essentials: many that I’ve seen cyber-security experts overlook. I’ve had a few tech professionals review the book and tell me they’re changing their security practices as a result.

If you’re interested in getting updates on the progress feel free to sign up for my newsletter. You’ll also get a sample download from the book.

Book Progress and What’s Left

The truth is I’ve never self-published, or published anything other than this blog so I’m learning as I go. My to-do list is very different now than it was at the start. I’m also getting a lot of help and advice from books about self-publishing, and getting help from family and friends. I’ve even had Eli proof reading for me.

Progress (so far):

  1. [x] Read several books about writing books
  2. [x] Decide to sell on Amazon or Self-Publish (decided to self publish).
  3. [x] Write a first draft
  4. [x] Send a draft to my editors (family and friends) for feedback
  5. [x] Decide whether to get a new domain for the book or sell it on b3n.org (decided to sell it on b3n.org).
  6. [x] Pick a working title (“LastPass Guide”)
  7. [x] Inform LastPass’s marketing/legal team to make sure there won’t be an issue (just gotten crickets so far)
  8. [x] Design a book cover
  9. [x] Design a Coming Soon Landing Page
  10. [ ] Pick an eCommerce platform (leaning towards Gumroad or WooCommerce)
  11. [x] Review notes / advice from reviewers
  12. [ ] Second round of review / edits
  13. [ ] Run Google Ads A/B testing to test different titles (just started this yesterday).
  14. [ ] Determine Final Title
  15. [ ] Final Book Cover Design
  16. [ ] Third and “final” review / edits
  17. [ ] Photos
  18. [ ] Get testimonials (in progress)
  19. [ ] Setup eCommerce platform
  20. [ ] Build Better Landing Page
  21. [ ] Figure out how to use Facebook and Twitter to announce the launch, if I use those at all. May skip this since I’m not a huge fan of Facebook.
  22. [ ] Setup a discount and run some tests orders through to catch any issues
  23. [ ] Pre-Launch to email subscribers with Discount
  24. [ ] Remove Discount and Launch

Frequently Asked Questions

When will the book be released?

I’m targeting to release end of January or early February 2020.

Why didn’t you choose KeePass, Bitwarden, 1Password, [insert your favorite password manager here]?

LastPass is in a fairly unique position in that it is ubiquitous, fully featured, very well audited and monitored by security firms, has reasonably priced plans and security measures that make it acceptable for individuals, families, small businesses, and enterprises. Some reviewers have asked why I didn’t base the guide on KeePass. While KeePass may be more secure since it is offline, KeePass is missing four key features most people will want: A Dead Man’s Switch, Automatic Sync, Easy Browser Integration, and Sharing.

Can I get a discount?

During pre-launch we will have early release pricing for a few days before it is released to the masses… the exchange for the discount is I want you to be watching for problems in the ordering process and let me know if there’s an issue.

Are you planning to do coupon codes or future promotions?

No. While I am trying to learn some marketing strategies, I’m very much against marketing tactics designed to pressure people into buying before they’ve had a chance to think about it. Other than the initial launch I don’t see doing time-based promotions. I don’t ever want someone to buy a book at full price and then find out it’s on sale at half that price a day later.

Will there be an affiliate program?

Not at launch due to time constraints, but if there is interest I can set it up post-launch. Probably at 50/50 revenue sharing. Shoot me an email if you’re interested.

Why Aren’t You Selling This on Amazon?

A couple of reasons:
1. I want buyers of the book to be my customers. When you sell on Amazon, buyers are not your customers. This is the main reason I chose to self-publish.
2. This book includes a lot of screenshots and graphics and Kindles are just awful at rendering those. How many times have you seen poor reviews on a great book because of the Kindle formatting issues? This book is much better as a PDF format where I have control of the formatting and design. This is not to say I’m not a fan of Kindles, this just isn’t the best book for it.

Will it just be an eBook or are you going to sell a paper version?

Just an eBook. That’s the best format for three reasons:
1. The thing with technology is things can change so I’d rather be able to send out updates as needed which you can’t do with a physical copy.
2. I’m not setup to do fulfillment. I’d have to charge something like $200 a book to make it worth the effort.
3. It’s easier to fix typos and mistakes with eBooks.

Aren’t you going to blog about some cool tech stuff soon?

Yes, several posts are in the works, including my first guest post.

What computer did you write this on?

Dell Latitude E5450.

Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully I’ll have a progress update in January.

Cloudways Managed WordPress Hosting

Save Time Managing WordPress

Last week I moved b3n.org from DigitalOcean to Cloudways Managed WordPress Hosting. Why? Well, there is nothing wrong with DigitalOcean, they’ve been fantastic.

But my problem is I hardly had time to maintain the technology stack. A few weeks ago I was in the process of adding a couple of WordPress sites. This isn’t difficult, but it’s tedious. You have to create user accounts, modify NGINX site files, setup SSL Cert Automation, configure Varnish and Redis for caching, install WordPress itself and set all that up for security, auto-updates, caching, etc. Then a year from now I’m going to have to migrate everything to a new host when Ubuntu 16.04 goes EOL (End of Life) for security updates. As I was working on this I thought to myself… What am I doing!?

Logos of Apache, PHP, MariaDB, redis, WordPress, Memcache, Varnish, NGINX, and Let's Encrypt

Before: On DigitalOcean I spent a lot of research and testing and setup plus several hours a month maintaining the OS, technology stack, security updates, and performance tuning necessary to run WordPress.

After: Now I host WordPress on Cloudways and they take care of it for me. When I want a new WordPress instance or to make a change I push a button on a web interface. Done.

What did that time savings cost me? It cost me dearly. My monthly hosting went from $5 to $10.

Before finding Cloudways I had a bit of a journey. I started by looking into hosting options… and decided I wanted managed hosting. This is mostly because I feel like I’ve done a much better job at tuning WordPress than shared hosting providers I’ve used in the past.

Managed Hosting vs. Shared Hosting

Managed hosting typically differs from shared hosting in the service level they offer. I say typically because many managed hosting providers fall short, and many shared hosting providers excel in these areas. But in general Managed Hosting providers are better at:

  • Automated backups
  • Multiple environments (Dev/Stage/Prod) and migration between them
  • Performance tuning
  • Caching and CDN
  • Security updates
  • Guaranteed or dedicated resources (cpu, memory, I/O, bandwidth)
  • Monitoring
  • Self-healing
  • Better control of when core components get upgraded (PHP, MySQL, MariaDB, etc.). This is useful because if you want to take advantage of the latest version of PHP like 7.3 you can, but if you have a plugin that isn’t compatible you can stay on an older version.

10web has an article that goes into more detail on managed hosting.

Managed Hosting Options

I had my shortlist. SiteGround, Bluehost, WPEngine, etc. Note that I am not looking at the cheaper shared hosting, but at their managed hosting plans.

All looked like they’d be great but what irked me is they want you to pre-pay for several years in advance to get the advertised price. I am used to hourly billing with DigitalOcean. The thing with technology is things change fast so I want flexibility. I don’t ever want to be locked into a situation where I’ve prepaid 2 years of hosting.

The other concern is the affordable plans had monthly visitor limits, bandwidth limits, or number of WordPress install limits. Most were under what b3n.org needs which would push me into the $100+ plans. Maybe my DigitalOcean droplet isn’t so bad after all!

So back to Google searching… I came across Cloudways. What’s the best way I can describe Cloudways? The DigitalOcean of WordPress.

What Separates Cloudways

What makes Cloudways unique is when you deploy WordPress, you’re not just getting a managed WordPress Application. You’re getting your own Cloud Server and you can install as many WordPress instances under it at no additional cost. So the hierarchy is:

  • Server
    • WordPress site 1
    • WordPress site 2
    • etc…

If you run out of capacity you can scale horizontally (deploy more servers) or vertically (more cores, memory, and ssd space).

Logos of DigitalOcean, Linode, Vultr, AWS, and Google Cloud Platform that Cloudways allows you to deploy to.

Cloudways doesn’t have their own infrastructure. Rather they partner with DigitalOcean, AWS, Google Cloud, Linode, and Vultr so you pick the underlying cloud vendor. So when you deploy a server on Cloudways you’re actually getting a managed cloud server.

Features I like from Cloudways

  • You can choose your desired cloud provider based on your needs.
  • Price is affordable ($10/month for a small DO droplet)
  • Per hour billing (no pre-paying years in advance).
  • Unlimited sites and WP instances, you can scale up as needed.
  • Choose any location you want
  • Staging Environments!
  • WordPress migration (mine migrated over flawlessly) from your old server
  • 24/7 Support … now when my server has trouble I don’t have to call myself.
  • Linux, Apache, NGINX, SSL Cert automation, Varnish, redis, security updates and all of that stuff I used to maintain myself is now taken care of for me! |:-)
  • Monitoring and Auto-healing can correct problems proactively.
  • There are a lot of checks for best practices and server health. I temporarily disabled the Breeze cache plugin and got an email the next day telling me it was still disabled. Similarly there are checks for load and performance.
  • You can choose which version of PHP and MariaDB to run on.
  • And now when Ubuntu 16.04 LTS goes EOL…. I don’t care!
  • WordPress Instances come pre-optimized (have Breeze caching plugin installed, Memcached, etc.).
  • It’s not limited to WordPress so Drupal and other PHP applications are supported as well.

Where Cloudways Could do Better

  • I’m a bit unclear what what happens when the server I deployed goes EOL for security updates. I can’t imagine they would upgrade it autonomously since that would be risky. I’m guessing it would fail a health check and I’d get a notification to upgrade? It’s something I’ll have to keep an eye on, but it could be made clearer. If the solution for this is to deploy a new server and move your WordPress Instance over to a new server that can be done with a few clicks from the web interface.
  • The Cloudways interface is not snappy. It can take a few seconds to bring up monitoring metrics.
  • Where are floating IPs?! With DigitalOcean I can get a floating IP that I can assign to one droplet and then reassign it to another droplet. With Cloudways it looks like moving to another server would require DNS changes.

Conclusion

In the the chart below I have:

  • IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service)
  • PaaS (Platform as a Service)
  • SaaS (Software as a Service)

Cloudways would fall in PaaS. They manage everything that WordPress runs on (PHP, MariaDB, Varnish, Apache, NGINX, etc.). Although they step in the SaaS world a bit since they will automatically deploy optimized WordPress instances for you with things like caching pre-configured, but for the most part you’re still managing WordPress yourself.

Chart showing IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS.  Cloudways falls under IaaS

All in all Cloudways Managed Cloud Hosting seems to be a decent offering. One side benefit is they’re just better at performance tuning than I am. On DigitalOcean where I was maintaining the platform myself b3n.org was able to handle a sustained load test of 150 clients per second, on Cloudways it handles over 1000 clients per second.

My First 3D Printer! Ender 3 Pro

Eli Assembling Ender 3 Pro

I’m not sure exactly how it started, it might have been when Eli and I were trying in vain to find Lego Technic sets with lots of gears, or when Kris was discussing with me purchasing learning aids for school. … and I started to realize we could 3D print this stuff!

Just with the things we buy for school each year a 3D printer will pay for itself in 2 years.

What is 3D Printing?

3D Printing is also known as Additive Manufacturing (AM). This means instead of injecting molding, items are created by printing layers on top of layers. Now injecting molding is fine for mass production, but for small quantities it doesn’t make since because molds aren’t cheap to make. For 3D printing a variety of methods and materials can be used. I use PLA (Polylactic acid), the plastic is fed to the printer and heated to the point of melting. It then comes out a nozzle where it is cooled and solidifies. The nozzle is controlled by X, Y, and Z axis stepper or servo motors allowing the nozzle to be positioned anywhere in the print area.

Octopus with articulating legs… the 3D printer can print the leg segments in place interlocked. I don’t think this is possible in traditional manufacturing.

Of course, I know very little about 3D printing so I turned to my coworker, Brad, who has designed and printed out prototype aircraft components and has actually flown them. I asked him for the best quality budget 3D printer. He has a few of the larger fancier Creality printers and told me the next one he would likely buy for himself for smaller prints was a little Creality Ender 3 Pro. One thing I’ve learned: if the expert is willing to buy something for himself, that’s what you want.

The Ender 3 Pro comes with all the tools needed for someone new to 3D printing. Allen keys, wrench, screwdriver, pliers, SD card and USB adapter, nozzle cleaner needle, blade, etc. The Pro version adds a few features that I think make it worth the extra cost of the normal Ender 3: It is a bit more sturdy, has a better (quieter) PSU, can resume printing after a power failure, and has a magnetic flexible print bed which eliminates the need for glue or hairspray to get prints to stick. The 3D prints adhere very well during printing and peels right off when done. I hardly ever need to print with rafts or support structures. I don’t even print a brim.

It arrived noon on Friday, Eli couldn’t wait so he and Kris mostly had it together before I got home. We finished the assembly, I didn’t level the bed or anything, I popped in the SD card that came with the machine, selected the cat model that was already on the card, and it started printing, and printing, and printing…. okay, so it took a long time. So we all all went to bed.

Next morning I woke up to hearing, “It finished!” We had a cat! Which Eli promptly painted. …here’s our first print:

Not bad for a first try.

For our second print we decided to print something simple like the Eiffel tower. I found one on ThingiVerse and opened it up in the Creality Slicer (a slicer is a program that converts 3D models into a gcode file that the printer understands) that came with the printer. It took me 3 tries.

This was my last print using the Creality Siicer. I had to go crazy on the rafts and support structure but this isn’t needed with the default Ender 3 Profiles that come with Cura.

Our first attempt ran for an hour or two then one of the 4 legs fell over. I tried it again with a raft but it still fell! Then I made huge rafts and a support structure and it worked! But the print came out stringy. I was using Creality Slicer since it came with the printer. Then I remembered Brad told me to try Cura. So I downloaded that… and it was a night and day difference (even though Creality Slicer is based on Cura). I told Cura what printer I had and it had pre-loaded sane defaults for everything from print speeds to head extraction. Now that I’m printing with Cura, I don’t need support structures, and no stringing. I’m guessing most of the difference was in the default profiles.

Print Workflow

Business Card Holder from ThingiVerse

What does a 3D print workflow look like?

1. Go to Thingiverse and search for a 3D object. Thingiverse is a huge library of 1,500,000 3D printable models. I’ve found everything from Craftsman versatrack compatible bike hangers to spare parts for my car. Download the STL file (this is essentially a CAD file).

2. Open the STL file with Cura (free open source) which is a slicer to convert the object into instructions the 3D printer can understand. Cura has well tuned default profiles for the Ender 3. The instructions will output into a .gcode file. I popped one open and it is a text file with line by line instructions for the printer to go to these x y z coordinates at these speeds at this temperature, etc. Essentially you copy this to an SD card, insert it into the printer, and print the object.

3. The printer will pre-heat the bed and PLA, then start printing. I would say we have a success 9 out of 10 times. Sometimes I won’t have the bed quite level or the temperature won’t be right for the specific PLA brand/color I’m using (even different colors print at different temperatures). But you can save those color profiles in Cura so once you have it dialed in it should work going forward. Generally if the first layer succeeds the print will be a success.

4. When done, let it cool for 30 seconds, bend the magnetic bed and the print peels off.

Can you Design and Print Your Own 3D Models? Yes!

Gears Eli designed in Tinkercad

Just about everyone has asked me this question. You can.

Tinkercad (by Autodesk) is a free web CAD designer that makes it simple to design 3D objects. The very first thing Eli designed in Tinkercad was a set of gears.

Stepper Motor Noise

Okay, so one issue I had with the Ender 3 Pro is the noise the servo motors make. The best way I can explain it is the printer sounds like R2D2 and C3PO are arm wrestling and you hear it throughout the entire house. I ended up swapping out the control board for one with silent stepper drivers. Once I did that, the only noise you hear is the fans. Much better. We have it near the kitchen and I’d say it isn’t silent. The fan is noisier than a typical computer fan but not nearly as loud as the dishwasher.

Motherboard

Infill Patterns

In Cura, you can choose from a number of Infill Patterns. Each has their advantage. Some are designed to be stronger, print faster, save on material. One of the huge advantages 3D printing has is you can pick a pattern and density to provide the strength needed for a particular use. This greatly reduces the amount of plastic needed to fill in a part. Here are the infill patterns in Cura:

Infill Patterns in Cura

Left to right the infill patterns are:

  • Gyroid
  • Cross 3D
  • Cross
  • Zig Zag
  • Concentric
  • Quater Cubic
  • Octet
  • Cubic-Subdivision
  • Cubic
  • Tri-Hexagon
  • Triangles
  • Lines
  • Grid
Infill Patterns Test
Cubic-Subdivision Infill Pattern

I usually use lines for quick prints. If I have a larger shape that needs to bear stress in multiple directions I’ll either use Gyroid (which is a 3D pattern found in creation) and or Cubic-Subdivision which will use more density around the perimeter and less in the middle (like bones).

Getting Started in 3D Printing

Here’s what I bought to get started.

  1. Creality Enter 3 Pro 3D Printer. 3D printer along with an essential set of tools.
  2. Silent Stepper Drivers Motherboard Upgrade
  3. Gizmo Dorks PLA Filament 1.75mm, 200g 4 Color Pack. I wanted to try a few different colors. These were easy to start with.
  4. Hatchbox PLA 1 kg spools in various colors.

One thing I’d say about 3D printing is at my budget it is not quite there when it comes to easy of use. There was nothing me, Kris, and Eli couldn’t figure out and get working, but it look us a bit of time to get the bed leveled and temperature settings dialed in. If you want something that is closer to “hit print and it just works” then you may want to pay a little more and get a Prusa Mini. It has auto-bed leveling and a network interface which makes it much more user-friendly. But you will pay quite a bit more for those features.

The Future

3D printing is the future. In the home it is going to replace the need to run to the store to get something small, and allow for 3D printing small parts to repair items instead of tossing them. Just like printers moved from businesses to homes, so will the ability to manufacture small plastic items. 3D Printing isn’t instant, but it’s already faster than Amazon Prime. And if it saves me from having to make a trip to Spokane to find some part it’s worth it.

For manufacturing, it greatly reduces the tooling costs. Injection molding will still be used for items produced in mass. But 3D printing lowers the tooling costs for smaller runs and one-off items. Not to mention the agility: a factory of general purpose 3D printers can instantly start printing something else to instantly meet new demands and market changes.

Transformer Pumpkin parts. I am amazed the printer can do those overhangs.

Things We’ve Printed (So far)…

  • Cat
  • Eiffel Tower
  • Pumpkin
  • Octopi to hand out as prizes
  • Pumpkin Transformer
  • UniFi USG and Switch mini racks
  • 3D Topography Maps of the 7 Summits
  • Craftsman Versatrack compatible bike hook
  • Drawers to store tools for the Ender 3
  • Impossible 3D shapes
  • Jig for drilling axles in a Pinewood Derby car
  • 3D Luther Roses for Reformation Day prizes
  • Business Card Holder
  • Gears
  • Benchy Boat
  • Lego compatible bricks
  • Carabiner