Death by a thousand browser tabs

There is a torture technique called “Lingchi“, also known as “Death by a thousand cuts”. The victim will die a slow and painful dead by the many cuts in all parts of the body. This is what happens when you keep all your browser tabs open to “read them later”. By having all these tabs open, your mind gets distracted and feels some pressure of all the open tabs. Probably with you noticing. That’s why, in productivity blogs, a tip is to close all other (browser) windows to focus on a single task.

Read Later services

Is there a way to store webpages you want to read later? Of course! There are many options, of course.

2 easy options, available by default on any computer, are printing the page and add the page as bookmark. Both options work, but are not integrated in with other digital tools or are hard to keep in sync on all your devices.

The friction to keep track of all webpages you want to read and make some sort of archive, was the reason for some “Read Later” services to be launched. They keep track of articles you want to read and articles you’ve read.

How it works

There is always some kind of integration with your browser and/or share options on your smartphone. In most modern browsers, you can install extensions (or add-ons). A button will appear, which will connect to your read later service. After clicking, the webpage you’re viewing it pushed to the Read Later service and stored there in your account. Until now, it’s the same as classic bookmarking of a URL.

A Read Later Service tries to present the content of the webpage or article as optimized for you to read as possible. Many design elements will be removed to have a nice reading experience. By adding tags, you can group certain articles for later reference.

To make this possible, the read later service tries to scrape the content of the webpage and store it on their servers. Once the content is stored, it gets synced over all the connected devices of your account.

After reading an article, you mark that item as read, and it gets archived. This way you can reference it on a later time.

Which service?

In this post I specifically mention 3 Read Later services. They provide the must-have feature. I would like to highlight the features in which they are different from the others.

They all have a Freemium model, so you can easily create an account or at least a trial.

Instapaper

Website: instapaper.com

After their launch in early 2008, Instapaper was known for its clean interface. They have a tight integration with the Kindle e-reader.

Pocket

Logo Pocket

Website: getpocket.com

Pocket has a great recommendation algorithm, based on your archive. I don’t like the social aspect of the service, since there are already enough platforms to follow and connect with people.

The Pocket API (especially the authentication) is a ‘special’ implementation of OAuth. This makes it harder to integrate with external services.

Wallabag

Logo Wallabag

Website: wallabag.org

With no trackers and the option to host Wallabag on your servers, this is my favourite Read Later service.

Wallabag also integrates with all major e-reader types and there’s an API available to develop new integrations

Other services

I know there are other ways to manage articles (or other content) you’d like to read. The list would be to long to cover them all, but you can think of

  • Evernote (Clipper)
  • Raindrop
  • Pinterest (I don’t see why you would use this to store interesting articles ๐Ÿ˜ฑ)

Why Notion

Within our family, as probably for all organizations, over time the list of tools and ways of communication cumulate. We used Google Drive, Trello, Todoist, shared calendars in Google Calendar, Signal/WhatsApp, whiteboard, post-it notes, … All information is spread all over the place, stored in multiple accounts and sometimes impossible to share.

At a certain point, we spent almost more time managing and updating information compared to checking of tasks. As you can imagine, it’s impossible to keep all this up to date and accurate.

Time to look for another tool. Let the fun begin! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Requirements

Before diving in that rabbit hole, we took a few minutes to define what we really need.

What is information?

The first and most important must-have for us, is the possibility to drop every shred of information in the tool. We don’t want to be limited to only documents or only online pages.

In reality, we don’t have audio to store, so that was no requirement for us.

Sharing is caring

It must be possible to share our information (documents, to-dos, projects, …). Within our ‘organization’ or with outsiders, while we keep control over who sees what.

On the other hand, we also prefer to have our own private space to store information.

Organize and structure

Information is structured data. If we can’t structure the data so it’s meaningful for use, any tool is useless. There are many ways to structure data. To make it easy for us, we took the strengths of a few tools we already use. We need a ToDo-list, a Kanban-style overview and a table. Some hierarchical structure was also a must-have.

No-Code

If we decide to use a tool that’s custom built, I’m sure it will (literally) take years before it’s somewhat usable. So one major requirement is a No-Code tool. This means we both can add new information or make use of all the features on the tool and it’s not dependent of my time to keep the tool/platform up and running.

Why Notion?

Example of a todolist
Example of a todolist

This is not a ‘compare x tools’ blogpost, but I tried to explain the process how we came to choose for Notion as our preferred tool to organize ourselves. There are many tools available with comparable features, so why did we choose Notion?

Example of a Task template

“Olympic Minimum”

Notion complies with our requirements listed above:

  • Can handle all types of information
  • Organize information in different ways
  • It’s a no-code solution

On top, live collaboration is possible, which was a nice plus. We’re using this continuously in our Google Drive documents.

What makes Notion special

Everything is a block

Whatever you type in Notion, is considered an object. The consequence is, you can add properties to objects. These properties can be used to search, filter or sort the different objects. Or, if you look at it the other way around, every page is a collection of blocks. This adds extra flexibility to build your custom pages with all available blocks. For example dashboards, are easily created.

You can have all types of blocks, from just texts, over lists and tables to images and document embeds.

Databases

The second-most powerful way of using blocks, is when you create a table. A table is automatically a database, where every column is a property, for which you can define datatypes and add validation.

After you created a database, you start entering lines in the table. These lines are blocks on their own and can be converted in a new page, which makes Notion perfectly flexible to link blocks in multiple ways, over multiple pages for example.

Level-up! Notion made it possible to re-use the data of a database on a different page! They call it “Linked databases”. You can add a Linked database on another page (as a block) and show the data on that page. If you only need a selection of all the data in that database, you can create a filter based on the properties of that database.

Once you’ve decided which entries (data) you want to show in the linked database, you can create a view to show the entries in the most optimal way: table rows, Kanban-style, gallery, …

Linked databases are awesome

Example of a database
Example of a database

Dashboards

For data to become information, it needs interpretation and visualization. That’s where dashboards come in! You organize all information the way it makes most sense for you and your use-case. Add images and icons where it fits your needs, but most important add you linked databases!

Templates

After some experimenting, you finally created your perfect layout! With “templates”, you can create re-usable pages. You give them a name and reuse the structure on multiple pages. Templates are stored in a separate section in Notion.

Templates can even have pre-filtered linked databases, so you already have a view available for your new page with the right data.

Pro & Con

Pro

Con

  • Overwhelming, because there is not structure predefined
  • No API available

Implementation

Getting started with Notion, as creating an account on notion.so! After registration, you have all tools available to make your own perfect setup. Having all these possibilities, can we a bit overwhelming. That’s why they made a bunch of ready-made templates available to work with.

Click in the left column on “Templates”, to get the overview. Once you’ve selected the one you would like to try, click on the “Use this template”.

Example of a Kanban board
Example of a Kanban board

A great template to start with and get the gist, is the “Task List”. Here you can find an easy to use template for your personal tasks, shown in a Kanban-board overview. Every task is a new page.

Single source of truth

Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Single_source_of_truth

When implementing Notion for our household, it was important to define where “the truth” is. Up until now, there were so many sources, but from now on, Notion is our Single source of truth. No more searching in mailboxes or random post-it notes or … The only place, information really exists is Notion.

Don’t repeat yourself

Link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don’t_repeat_yourself

In our shared workspace, data is only entered once. With the powerful linking of databases and other pages, we try not to enter data multiple times. This prevents errors in the data.

How to start?

There are many examples and templates available online you can use. How to choose the best templates? I don’t know. We started with a process in our household or personal activities in mind and defined the key elements of that process. Then we translated these elements to notion. Many times, we searched how existing templates tackled some problems. If I had to guess, implementing a new template took 1 to 2 evenings.

Our use cases

Here are a few use cases that work for us. In later blogposts, I will explain how they were build.

Book library

We have a nice collection of books and like reading a lot. Also, we lend out books to friends and family. To keep track of our books, we created a book library.

Stockphoto library
  • Books > Database
    • Properties
      • Title
      • Author (linked to authors)
      • Publisher
      • ISBN-number
      • Fiction/Non-fiction
      • Category
      • Language
      • Lend to (linked to contacts)
      • Read by (linked to contacts)
      • Series (part of a certain series)

Based on this ‘master database’, we’ve created some filtered list with the Linked Database feature to get overviews. For example, which books did we borrow from others, to return them within a reasonable time.

I think, in a later phase, we can expand this to a full media library.

Food planning

There are many meal planning templates available, so why did we create a new one? Apart from the database of meals, we created also a database of ingredients.

  • Ingredients > Database
  • Recipes > Database
    • Linked to ingredients
  • Food planning > Database
    • Linked to recipes
    • Multiplication
      • Based on the number of people eating

With these databases, we can extract a list of ingredients. And these ingredients are linked to where we buy them, even multiple options are available.

ToDo list

Probably the most frequently use case is the personal ToDo list. In Notion, it doesn’t matter which productivity system you use. A quick search online, give you a lot of examples of GTD, PARA and other ways or organizing your tasks.

  • Tasks > Database
  • Per project a dashboard
    • Based on priority or status of a task

One major downside of Notion: You can’t create recurring tasks

Example of a ToDo list

Up to you

Let’s start implementing Notion!

How will you be using Notion? Do you have tips or suggestions? Let me know!

Motivational quote "Go up and never stop"

Passwords made easy

We all have a bunch of passwords, logins, account, …, whether we want it or not. Most of the time, it’s used to secure access to your personal data or accounts. Passwords can also be used to encrypt data or secure communication between multiple parties.

In reality, nobody likes passwords, because they are hard to remember, easy to make mistakes, have to comply with strange (unintuitive) validation rules. For example your password needs to include at least 1 number and at least one capital character. This makes is hard for you to remember and manage our collections of hundreds of passwords.

Since we’re not able to store this much unique passwords and we’re somewhat lazy (and call is efficient), we usually take our resourt to one password, we use on all accounts. Or we make up a system to help remember the passwords. For example your pets name and your house number combined. The problem is, these ‘systems’ are fairly easy to guess, especially when some research is being done on your social media accounts.

Can you guess the most frequently used passwords? As long as passwords exist, there are data breaches by malicious parties to access your accounts. Based on data from these breaches, we know the most used passwords are:

  • 1234567890 (or a short form)
  • password
  • qwerty
  • 11111111

We’re all lazy, when it comes to passwords

Using these easy to guess passwords, makes it easy for hackers to access your accounts and steal your data. When they automate the login attempts to guess passwords, it’s easy for them to automatically guess your passwords, using your email address and a database of known passwords. To block this “attack vector”, iOS blocks entering a pincode for some time when too many failed attempts were made. Another example is the 3 login attempts for bank cards.

But why?

Why we’re still using passwords? Simple: there is no good alternative. With “good”, I’m talking about a safe solution, one that’s user-friendly and is wide-spread. There are alternatives to passwords, that are more secure but are so not user-friendly, it will be hard to get a high adoption rate.

So, for now, we’ll stick to using passwords. Below, I describe best practices and tools for your passwords.

Best practices

Unique

This one is easy to remember and to implement!

Whenever you set a password, make sure it’s unique. When a password is unique, it’s harder to guess. Once you re-use a password for different logins and one of the accounts is breached, a common attack is to use known passwords from a previous breach on other accounts with the same email address. There is an awesome service by Troy Hunt called โ€œ’;–have i been pwned?โ€ Where you can enter your email address and discover where one of your accounts has been breached.

I totally understand why re-using passwords is easy for yourself, but it makes you vulnerable too. When creating a new account, you have to think of a new password (and be able to repeat that ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ). You can use an online password generator, like the one on Random.

Strong passwords

When you register a new account on a service, most likely, youโ€™re being asked to enter a password. In many cases, your password needs to match some criteria for it to be considered strong. In many cases, it needs capitals, numbers and a certain length. The longer a password is, the harder to guess to break in to your account. For example a password of 1 lower-case character from the alphabet can be guessed in maximal 26 tries. When we double the passwords length, a maximum of 676 tries is needed.

This table illustrates the maximum number of tries needed to guess a password, when only lower-case alphabetic characters are used. When you add capitals, digits, punctuation and symbols, you get a collection of roughly 100 characters to choose from. To guess this kind of password, there is a maximum of 1e20 possible combinations. This sounds impressive, but it all depends on the infrastructure available to brute force your password. In general, the longer your password, the stronger. It all depends on the maximal length your allowed to set.

LengthMax tries
126
2676
317576
4456 976
511 881 376
6308 915 776
78 031 810 176
8208 827 064 576
95 429 503 678 976
10141 167 095 653 376

The strength of a password can be quantified and is measured in “entropy bits“, which is based on the number of tries required to guess the password. If you want to quickly test the strength of your password, you can use the basic-looking zxcvbn test-page.

Generally speaking, your password needs a minimal of 12 characters before it is considered strong.

Example of an easy to remember password (alphabet and numbers) with spaces, but hard to guess
Easy to remember, hard to guess

Passwords vs Passphrase

In this paragraph, it might look like I contradict myself compared to what I wrote about strong passwords. Well, I’m not. The passwords you set in accounts don’t have to be complex, but just longer. We’ve been trained (forced?) to use complex combinations of characters to set as passwords. These passwords are hard for us to remember and it’s not guaranteed they are harder to guess for computers.

Passphrase to the rescue! They can be hard to guess for computers and if chosen wisely, are easy to remember. A passphrase is a group of random words, used as your password. This group of words have no relationship to each other, for example it’s best the words are not a sentence. Otherwise it’s too easy to guess.

https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/password_strength.png
xkcd – Password Strength

How to do this?

Diceware: Pick random words

So now we know it’s important to pick some (โ‰ฅ4) different words as password and the password needs to be unique. To quickly generate a new password, you can use the Diceware Passphrase generator. This online tool picks random words from a Diceware wordlist.

In short:

  1. Throw 5 dices Example:
  1. Concatenate those 5 numbers
    Example: 32424
  2. Lookup which word the Diceware Wordlist
    Example: 32424 = haunt
  3. Repeat!
    Example: haunt revel rena since

Doing this manually for every account you have is a tedious job and takes a while! Therefor, you better use a password generator.

Password managers

To get the gist and understand what’s going on, throwing dices is perfect. To repeat this manual process for every password, even with a generator, is impossible. Generating new passwords is easy, but to remember every unique password, you have to be extraordinary.

Password managers are tools (services), specialised in securely storing your passwords. The best password managers integrate nicely with your browser or other apps to help you login fluently.

Some of the most well-known password are Lastpass, Keepass and 1Password. There are many websites where you can compare features, so in the next blogpost, I highlight some feature that make 1Password an essential tool for me and I’ll layout the steps to implement 1Password.

Passwords are never easy

To keep your accounts as safe as possible, you have to think of so many things, it’s almost impossible to do this without a tool, taking care of most of the administration. Since discovering Password Managers, it’s a lot easier to go for strong, uniques passwords or pass-phrases.

DIY Construction toys Table

Our eldest son became interested in LEGO. At first, you can keep everything contained in one box, but soon enough, it takes more time to build/play with it. This means we needed a solution to store projects in progress. If you combine this with a growing collection of sets and boxes, you see this is an impossible situation!

LEGO on a table

Since this is our dinner table, it needed to be cleared of all pieces for every meal. Our kids wanted to keep playing longer and longer with the LEGO. They started building their cars, boats, houses, … Interrupting their play every time made it harder for all of us (struggle to clean up, stop the play, …).

Solution

My wife reads a few blogs from moms writing about their ideas and experiences. The solution for our LEGO problem was published on “Mama ruimt op” (Dutch). The basic idea is as smart as it is simple! The structure of the table is a group of 6 Trofast wall storage elements with boxes to store all LEGO blocks or K’nex or ….

The result with sideview

Why this model?

  • Our kids are very … ehm … enthusiastic when they play, which means toys, boxes, … need to be robust.
  • The table will be used for some years, by (children from) different ages. So not too high, not too low
  • A table to build on is good, a table with additional storage is better
  • Low-budget
  • Easy to move, so cleaning is easy

Steps to build

Preparations

Material

  • 6 Trofast Wall Storage
  • 4 Swivel caster wheels with Rubber
  • 1 board of 93 x 135 cm (bottom)
  • 1 board of 98 x 140 cm with rounded corners (top)
  • Linoleum or vinyl with high durability (to cover top)
  • A few dozen wood screws
  • Double-sided tape
  • Trofast storage boxes (a mix of smaller and lager boxes)

Tools

Nothing special is required:

  • Cutter knife
  • Electrical drill with bits
  • Hex key (included in the Ikea products, but I prefer a taller one)

Assemble storage/structure

To start, assemble the 6 Trofast elements

Arrange

To optimize storage space, put 2 Trofast elements after one another. This way, the rails are deeper and can support the larger Trofast boxes. The small open space in the middle has no negative impact, don’t worry about it.

Base

The base plate is used to keep the Trofast elements in place. You can use a few planks for this, but we opted for a larger piece of OSB to support the table. Size: 93 x 135 cm. To temporaroly fix the plate in the right position and support the screws, we used double-sided tape. A bunch of screws attach the Trofast elements to the OSB board.

Mobility of the table is mandatory, so we can rearrange the room, clean it from time to time or collect all LEGO pieces from under it. We mounted 4 Swivel caster wheels with Rubber and locks. This way, we can easily move the table and keep it frim in place.

Tabletop

The same way as we did the base plate, we take the top plate (98 x 140 cm). Since the top plate is larger on every side, we rounded the corners, so the kids wouldn’t hurt themselves.

The table can be used in this state, but we can add some small extras to it!

Top layer

To protect the table top and to cover the screw holes, we opted for a few linoleum tiles, which was a left-over from another project. We used double sided tape to glue the tiles to the top plate. This layer adds some friction to the surface and is a little bit softer, so pieces don’t bounce of the surface on the ground so easy.

Conclusion

There are many solutions out there. For our needs, this table, with storage is a great solution. The construction wasn’t that hard and didn’t take much time.

Book review – Humankind

When reading the newspapers headlines, one must think the world is doomed. Every story is about dramas. If this is your only source of information, your view on humankind must be very negative. So, in general, you might think people are bad.

On the other hand, people are living next to each other for centuries. In the beginning in small groups of hunter-gatherers, later in communities. In all this time, people helped and supported his neighbour. Probably it’s more realistic to think people are good in nature! Peoples instincts are more leaning towards cooperation and doing what’s best for all of us.

In this 476 pages book, Rutger Bregman tells a story, starting from first humans until modern times. An untold story of 200 000 years of human history. He challenges general accepted assumptions and supports it with hundreds of scientific sources. Some of the most known sociological experiments are discussed and often contradicted. Very useful, since people have a “negativity bias”.

Logo of the Corona Denktank

A great recent example, is the corona crisis!
At the very beginning of the crisis, a few makers started the “Corona Denktank”. In a few weeks time, a community of 2000 enthusiasts gathered and started working on projects to support fellow citizens.

To end the book, there is a list of guidelines to live by from the author himself. Maybe they can help you also to look to others with a more positive view?

The book is a story, not a scientific publication, so it’s highly opinionated. The story that’s told, though, it one everyone can relate to. Even when you disagree with it.

If you would like to read it, you can probably get it in every book store. It’s written in Dutch originally while translations are being released in English (pre-order) in June 2020. To save resources, the publisher encourages the owner of the book to pass on the book to another interested person. You can borrow mine, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Copy of the book read: 2 times

Spend your time different in COVID-19 lockdown

COVID-19 sent a shockwave through the world and it had major impact on all our lives. On March 16th, the Corona Denktank (Corona Thinktank) published this tweet

I don’t consider myself a maker, but there is some knowledge I can share, so joining another Slack Workspace to connect and collaborate.

These seven days have been a hell of a ride for everyone active in the Workspace. Almost 2000 members were collaborating on a massive amount of projects. The mentality is one where working together and taking initiative are most important.

Some projects

There are so many projects in progress, some based on the hottest technologies, while others are pure craftsmanship! All of the projects have in common its worked on by teams of makers! I present the project I contributed to.

Praatbox

Logo of Praatbox
Logo of praatbox

There are many video call tools, but they require you to have an account or login or some other technical hurdle. Praatbox let’s you set up a video call by entering 3 words. Nothing more simple than that.

This week, two classmates of our eldest son have their birthday, so the teacher suggested to use Praatbox to connect and celebrate!

Make facemasks

Campaign image
Campaign image

There is a major shortage of face masks. With this action, in multiple languages, you can learn how to sow masks from common materials. Follow the hygiene tips and use the pattern to make masks. The more masks, the merrier!

This one-pager website has all the information needed and a few call-to-action-buttons

Corona denktank

Visual Corona denktank
Visual Corona denktank

This global website (Work in Progress) gives an overview of the the initiatives and projects currently in development. Over the next few months, this website will become the hub of all Corona related intiatives.

Why?

I have not expertise in any aspect of healthcare, but I have a lot of experience in web development. My empty schedule (after the evening rush with the kids ;-)) gave the opportunity to contribute to this wonderful citizen maker collaboration project.

I’m convinced we will overcome this pandemic by collaborating to find the best possible solutions

WP Meetup Hasselt – Install WordPress

Installing WordPress is a 5-minute task, according to the documentation. It actually is true! And everyone can install WordPress, which is also true.

The first speaker in our meetup presented the steps and made a detailed guide to set up WordPress on your local machine.
After the installation, there are so many options to optimize the installation to your needs.

You can read the full article on the website of WP Belgium.

Improve WordPress

Every web developer has made his or her own CMS, possibly even several times. Alone or in a team. What is often underestimated is the time and energy needed to maintain and improve everything once a website works with the CMS.
In the meantime, a number of large Content Management Systems have become established. One of them is WordPress, which supports about 30% of the most popular websites.

WordPress is known for its user-friendly backend and the many plugins that give you the opportunity to create all kinds of websites with WordPress. Where this used to be a real blog engine, it has evolved into a flexible platform to build all kinds of websites.
Another strength of WordPress is the large community that works together to make WordPress better. This is not just about programming! There are so many tasks to do that make WordPress what it is today. The power of a platform like WordPress is, in my opinion, determined by the community that contributes to WordPress.

How can I help?

Anyone can become a member of the WordPress community in order to work on it and thus improve the platform. This is free and strongly encouraged. You don’t have to be able to program, there are so many other tasks you can use your knowledge and skills for. This can range from supporting other users to development and marketing. You will have to find out which aspect of the community suits you best. This depends not only on your knowledge, but if possible even more on what makes you happy!

The WordPress community is divided into several teams, with each team focusing on a specific part of the development and promotion of WordPress. Below you will find a selection of teams:

  • Core: develop WordPress code
  • Design: improve and develop the user interface design
  • Accessibility: improve accessibility throughout the WordPress project
  • Polyglots: translate WordPress into your own language
  • Support: answer questions on the different support channels
  • Documentation: create documentation
  • Themes: assess and approve the themes submitted in the WordPress Theme repository
  • Plugins: review and approve the plugins submitted in the WordPress Plugin repository.
  • Training: make downloadable lesson plans and related material for teachers
  • Test: test, document and report on the WordPress user experience

The complete list of all existing teams can be found on the Make WordPress website.

Why am I putting that list here? To show that WordPress is about much more than just programming. Of course, without code there will be no WordPress, but you can use your knowledge perfectly in many other areas.

In addition to your knowledge, the time available is also an important factor in determining how you can participate in WordPress. I am convinced that you will be able to contribute when you can spend 15 minutes! Maybe let’s start with translations?