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 Now Available!

Jordan reading the LastPass Guide

Today, my first eBook has launched!

Rocket Launch Icon

I’m running a $10 off promotion to celebrate the launch until February 15th. Use code password123 at checkout.

Head on over to the LastPass Guide eBook Page.

If you’d like to help me out please share it!

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.

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.