When I first started writing blog entries, back in 2013 or so, I tried desperately to make alliterative post titles for the sake of doing such.  This essentially set the mood of the blog posts – snippets of thought from late at night, often pumped full of corny writing and cheesy storytelling.

I liked them, nonetheless.  Unfortunately, that blog was deleted in favor of other blogs, which eventually led me to making to this blog.

I tend to like many of the things I made when I was younger.  Not for technical merit, of course, but solely because they represent fun snippets of the past.  I read old fiction, written with characters representing old friends, and I can vividly remember how they spoke and their mannerisms (even though it’s been almost ten years since I graduated high school).  Old illustrations show me how I’ve improved in drawing (although I definitely have a ways to go).

When I graduated from college, I did something I’d regret for years (and still do) – delete all of my writing from middle and early high school.  This sounds like a silly thing to regret, but now when I fondly talk about the hilariously terrible fiction of my youth, I have nothing to offer as an example.  Late-high-school stories and published work I kept, but not the very old work, that I had poured sweat and tears into as a middle school student.  I also shredded a lot of my old artwork, out of embarrassment.

This was an error.  It also means I can never feature terrible old writing on “Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids,” [link] which is one of my favorite podcasts.

I wish instead there was a scrapbooking service for this sort of work, similar to Facebook’s “On This Day” feature, that I could load it all into.  Perhaps a service using encryption, because lord knows very old work is typically not shining examples of quality.  It could be locked down and perhaps randomly sent to you, like a cute FutureMe letter.  A little package of nostalgia and warm memories of friends from your past.

It would be a lovely way of cheering yourself up!

There’s lots of research about staying in the present moment, and how doing that can help center you in times of stress.  I do tend to get caught up in worrying about the future, especially in academia, where lots of deadlines can make weeks and months into the future look like tangled messes.

Meditation, guided [link] or otherwise is probably the best tool for cultivating mindfulness, and there are also good apps for reminding oneself to stay in the present, like Mindfulness Daily [link]!  However, I came up with a way to just send an occasional push notification for those of us who may just want to be reminded to take a deep breath.

If This Then That [link] is one of my favorite web services, and includes tons of applets for connecting services to other services. Most of the services that exist are for things like Hue light bulbs and the Amazon Alexa (i.e. smart home and automation services), but there are a few others that allow for interesting timed events to be scheduled.  One of these services is for NASA [link], and allows you to do cool things like:

  • Email yourself a beautiful space photo once a day,
  • Know when the seasons are changing on Mars, and
  • Know when the International Space Station is passing over your home.

The latter one intrigued me, because it’s something I never think about in day to day life.  So I set a reminder for it, just to see how frequently the space station does pass over my house.  It turns out to be several times a day, and I grew to enjoy the little notification that popped up telling me that the space station was soaring overhead.  I started using the reminder to signal myself to pause and take a deep breath and center my thoughts – and realized it worked well as a mindfulness reminder!

So without further ado, here’s the steps for setting up your own space station mindfulness reminder!

  1. Sign up for IFTTT.  As of November 2016, it is a free service.  I would, as I always do, recommend setting up 2-factor authentication, especially if you intend on connecting personal accounts to this application (like Facebook, Twitter, etc.)
  2. Go to the existing applet for being notified when the International Space Station passes overhead. [link]
  3. Click the toggle to turn it on, and add your own address (or whatever address you’d like to monitor) in the address field.
  4. Save the applet.
  5. Click the gear icon in the upper-right hand corner of the applet, to edit the message that is sent.
  6. Scroll down until you see the section headed “Send a Notification”, and change that to whatever text you prefer.

I can’t believe it’s already November!

In part, I suppose that’s because Wisconsin is unseasonably, eerily warm for this time of year.  Leaves have fallen off most of the trees in my neighborhood, but we have yet to drag out our heavy winter parkas.  I’m happy, if not a tad unsettled – some years it seems like we don’t get a spring or a fall, so a longer fall is appreciated.

No matter the season, new apps come out, and technology improves – so I wanted to take a moment to highlight 3 neat tools for research that I came across as of late.  Hopefully one of these is helpful for you, reader!

  1. Diigo: Another read-it-later service, with some nice additional features.  
    Diigo allows you to highlight and save snippets of text from any website, and filter only those websites you’ve annotated, or those you’ve yet unread.  The typical tagging system seen on sites like Instapaper is also included.  I haven’t looked at the other tools (such as the outlining tools) in depth, but I’m very pleased with the app thus far.
  2. Overleaf: Google Docs, but for LaTeX.  I’ve been using Overleaf for about a month, and it’s a fantastic solution for LaTeX editing in your browser – complete with a preview alongside your LaTeX code!  You can even enable a Git repository for your writings and do versioning that way.  You can collaborate with others, but I haven’t tested those features yet.
  3. Screencast-O-Matic: Cross-platform screen recording software.  Nothing is worse than giving a demo for a presentation and having your app fail mid-demonstration!  I recently had to give a presentation on digitizing assessments for occupational therapists, and wanted to demo software we created.  Instead of walking through the demo live, I opted to record a quick demo video with Screen-O-Matic.  The free version allows videos to be taken up to 15 minutes in length with a small watermark in the lower left hand corner – and if you hate watermarks, it’s only $15/year for a paid version!

Recently I’ve also discovered Paraview, which is an open source visualization and data analysis tool.  Unfortunately, I can’t give much of a review for this application just yet, as I’m still toying around with this software, but it looks promising as well!

I like stories about how folks came up with their usernames!  Whether the username reflects on some period of a person’s life (the anime phase, lyrics from a band they liked the most) or simply was created to reflect their personality, the story of how it was chosen can often be quite interesting.

One of my friends recently asked what prompted me to choose my own username.  I’ve used the username “terminaltraces” for a few years now, but many friends of mine know me by one of the many usernames I had before it.  At the end of college, I wanted to consolidate my internet identity under one banner, and set out trying to think of a word – or phrase – that met the following criteria:

a, not taken on Twitter, and

b, somewhat encapsulated my personality.

Usernames can be, after all, a sort of second name – a way of expressing one’s personality across websites and services.  So, I made it a game: going through a variety of different word combinations before coming across terminaltraces as a viable option.  I finally settled on it because each word hinted towards something I did: “terminal” for my computer science work, and “traces” for my artwork.

(It also sounds nice.)

Coming up with a unique username nowadays is really hard!  But by sitting down with an idea of how you want to be perceived online (and perhaps with the help of thesaurus.com (link) ) you can come up with a name that best fits you and your work, if you’re looking for a username to represent your “brand,” so to speak.  I used the following questions to help guide me to a good username.

  • Do you want the username to be composed of words?  For gaming in particular, using one of the many fantasy name generators out there can be helpful. (link)
  • What are you focusing on online?  Are you a botany enthusiast, who also works on computers?  Try mixing some interesting words from each of the interests – ‘cyberanther’ is, as of October 30th, 2016, not taken on Twitter! (anther being the part of a flower that produces pollen, for those who are not botany enthusiasts!)
  • Play with spelling!  Bite and byte are two of my favorite for this – homonyms can be your friend!

However, in any case, don’t make it too long!  I will admit that my username is a bit on the long side – three or four syllables is great!