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.
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.
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.
Wrote a Book
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.
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)
2 thoughts on “2019 in Retrospect”
I am curious on your decision on abandoning the PF-Sense firewall and going with the USG? I am guessing with all of your ubiquiti network gear you wanted to get the firewall that goes along with it?
Hi, Paul. Good question. Yeah, in a sense I just wanted everything under the same control panel. It just keeps things simple. pfSense is superior to the USG firewall in almost every way. The main issue I was trying to solve was I needed to get pfSense out of VMware. Anytime I lost power it took awhile for VMware had to come back up. So by the time pfSense came back up everything’s else is waiting on a DHCP server. I also couldn’t ever do maintenance on my VMware server because I’d take down the network. Before I decided on the USG I first went down the path of buying a physical Netgate or Protectli Firewall to run pfSense…but to get gigabit line speed I’d have to spend closer to $300-400. The USG uses asics to get gigabit routing so it was a lot cheaper. It’s good enough for home use and integrates nicely with the rest of my gear. pfSense is a /lot/ more powerful and has more features–so I wouldn’t necessarily steer people away from that.