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Charting tools for WordPress

Posted April 14, 2024

This website has included charts on several pages for quite some time: the run log, the bike log and the golf score database have all had various graphs that were created using the Easy Chart Builder plugin by dyerware. It used the original Google Chart API to create a PNG graphic from the information in a shortcode that I updated manually after each new event.

Google deprecated that API in 2012 and according to the Wikipedia page, turned it off on March 18, 2019. For some reason, however, the plugin still worked after that (most of the time). Last week, though, it didn’t work at all. When I went to the Easy Chart Builder support page, I discovered the plugin hadn’t been updated in 11 years. Time to find a replacement, eh?

Google still has a free charting tool called Google Charts and most current WordPress charting plugins use that. I didn’t want to get stuck again with Google deprecating a service in the future, though, so I started looking for alternatives. I found an awesome looking open source graphing library called Chart.js and skimmed through the documentation for that.

Turns out there is a great free plugin that uses Chart.js from Jamie Poitra called M Chart that does everything I want. Jamie has nice documentation here and I was up and running with replacement graphs on all three pages in about an hour. Still need to read up on themes, but I like the default styles and might just leave it the way it is. The Highcharts stuff is interesting – hadn’t heard of that library (or the Norwegian company) before.

M Chart also uses shortcodes, but creates a chart object for each one that is updated like a post or page. Each chart has a spreadsheet-like interface for updating data, so I’ll have to see how I like that workflow. Ideally, I’d like to have the charts update automatically when I enter events into the database, but that is beyond the scope of this plugin. I currently use phpMyAdmin to enter events, so maybe I can tackle that whenever I get around to creating custom data entry screens…


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18 years of web publishing 🎂

Posted March 27, 2024

My little web baby is almost an adult: 7 Minute Miles turns 18 years old this Saturday. Some highlights:

  • First post: March 30, 2006
  • Domain created: November 26, 2002
  • Posts: 30,050
  • Pages: 216
  • Database: 193.4 MB
  • Directory: 62 GB
  • Server: AWS Lightsail, Ohio, Zone A, Ubuntu 20.04.6 LTS, 4 GB RAM, 2 vCPUs, 80 GB SSD
  • Tech stack: WordPress 6.4.3, PHP 8.2.17, nginx 1.18.0, MariaDB 10.3.39, Let’s Encrypt SSL/TLS
  • Costs: $17.99/year @ Hover, $25-28/month @ AWS (Lightsail and Route 53)
  • Jetpack stats (avg/mo): 96 posts, 1497 views, 540 visitors

I’ve tweaked the font sizes a little since the launch of the new theme last year, but overall remain happy with how things are now. I recently simplified the navigation menu, which now just has home, about, lists and search links. The new about page was completely re-written and I updated my résumé page (and PDF) to reflect my move to Target Center last September.

Not sure what comes next. I’ve re-established the automation between 7 Minute Miles and Instagram via the excellent Intagrate plugin and continue to automatically capture any posts to Mastodon via the TootPress plugin. This site also technically federates content via the ActivityPub plugin (you can follow dmk@7minutemiles.com in your favorite Mastodon client), but I don’t see many people reading posts that way.

I removed all of my concert videos from YouTube, hibernated my channel, then posted them all here using the HTML5 Video Player plugin. I also tried to clean up the photo galleries a little, but both of these media types will likely require an increase in server storage in the next year to be expanded/enhanced.

Long live the weird web – thanks for visiting!


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Bûcheron, Minneapolis ✅

Posted March 15, 2024

At the start of the week, Colleen and I used the break between the women’s and men’s Big 10 basketball tournaments to have dinner at the new Bûcheron in the Kingfield neighborhood of south Minneapolis. While we mainly knew 4257 Nicollet as the original home to Revival, it was also home to Corner Table and Lufrano’s (h/t to Justine Jones at Eater Twin Cities on that last one).

Open about two months now, this 38-seat room was immediately familiar (yet seemed smaller – didn’t Revival’s dining room eventually expand next door?). Loved to hear that they used the old Revival benches to build the new bar. Also loved to see this comment from Revival on the Bûcheron Instagram page:

We feel honored to be part of the legacy that you are carrying on. It makes our heart full to see all the love and care you put into the space and know you will make memories of your own for years to come!

Lots have been written already about the husband and wife team of Chef Adam Ritter and Hospitality Director Jeanie Janas Ritter (see Sharyn Jackson’s preview in the Strib, Jason DeRusha’s article for Minnesota Monthly and Justine Jones’ story in Eater Twin Cities), so I won’t rehash the backstory. Let’s just say that I completely agree with Jason when he writes “It’s going to be fascinating to watch the first wave of Kaysen proteges do their own things.”

In addition to the owners, there is Chef de Cuisine Cory Western (Spoon and Stable & Demi), General Manager Tyler McLeod (Bellecour & Demi, KZ Provisioning) and bar lead Will Gobeli. Not sure who all we saw on our visit, but there were some strong The Bear vibes coming from the kitchen on our visit, with lots of white T-shirts and tattoo-covered arms. The back of house staff does come out to discuss the dishes, which was super fun (at least for us).

We ordered from all sections of the menu at the beginning of the night so our wonderful server could course it out appropriately. Here are all the items we had (as printed on the menu):

  • POMMES DAUPHINES, gruyère, celery, caraway | 10
  • LITTLE GEM salad, lobster, sherry mayo, winter citrus, tarragon | 19
  • Grilled CARROTS, kohlrabi, chickpea, cilantro yogurt, sweet & sour sauce, vadouvan vinaigrette | 17
  • SKREI COD roasted sunchoke, rapini, wild rice furikake, radish beurre blanc | 34
  • Feller’s Ranch STEAK*, shallot confit, potato mousse, kalettes, sauce bordelaise | 42
  • “COOKIES & CREAM” milk sorbet, cocoa macaron, vanilla custard, lemon verbena | 13
  • Shepard’s Way ‘Sogn’ CHEESE, fermented honey, quince, mustard, seeded baguette | 14

I loved every single thing I had and feel that this was the best meal I’ve had so far in 2024. Take the grilled carrots (pictured above): it was a true Ratatouille moment, with flavor combinations just bursting in unexpected ways. Colleen was disappointed in the salad, but her food allergies meant the kitchen had to put some things on the side that I was able to add back. My Feller’s Ranch steak with the potato mousse had fingerlings in the mousse, which was an excellent surprise. Both of our desserts were amazing and it’s always great when I can order a Milk and Honey cider in the city…

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Bûcheron (French for ‘lumberjack’)
4257 Nicollet Avenue • Minneapolis, MN 55409
612-255-5632 (online reservations via Resy)

Hours:
Monday – Saturday 5pm to 10pm
Sunday – closed


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Yet another social media update 🤔

Posted March 3, 2024

Thanks to the social media manager in my office, I’m now back on the Gram. She has a goal to increase Instagram followers, so I registered @7minutemiles as a private account, followed @targetcentermn and started looking at the current state of that platform. As some of you may recall, I used to be @kingsbury for years and Colleen had her account stolen by a hacker (Meta support was not helpful).

It’s really amazing to me how much content is generated exclusively for Instagram, especially in the food world. Sports and entertainment is also still going strong and I’m slowly re-discovering golf, skiing and regional travel accounts (Meta appears to limit new accounts to 100 follows a day now). A few people have discovered my new account and sent follow requests, but I’m not sure how much I will publish there.

As Cory Doctorow wrote, now is the moment for POSSE – Post Own Site, Share Everywhere. IndieWeb has also written a lot about POSSE, which I had already started to try recently on both Bluesky and Mastodon. Need to think through this a little more, as I never liked when people would just post the same stuff everywhere.

Still really love the idea of people publishing their own sites and content – whether that is a small business website, a personal blog or something else. What I do here is neither free nor easy, but there are options out there for people if you look. The vast majority of people, however, will likely continue to use services like Instagram and TikTok as their only home to the content they create and publish.

As someone who basically dropped off all social media for a time to focus on my personal site, getting eyeballs on your content is infinitely harder, FOMO is strong and with comments disabled on my site, two-way communication is definitely hindered. And as Zeldman says, “go where the people are.

Still, people like Jason Kottke remain great examples of self-publishing ideas and implementation. I love reading his posts like this one on the latest kottke.org site redesign. My RSS reader follow list hasn’t changed much over the years, but there is still some great stuff that pops up in there from people like Teri Kanefield, Brian Krebs, Charles Edge, Tom Bricker, Mistletunes and Phil Roberts.

Back on the platforms, I got to explore Threads with the new Instagram account and didn’t see a lot of personal value there. The “For You” view was awful and the “Following” option showed that most activity on accounts I care about is remaining on the Instagram side.

I still enjoy reading content on Mastodon via Ivory, which remains the closest experience to what I had with Twitter and Tweetbot. Recently learned I can follow tags there and have been enjoying the “SKIING” tag a lot. Also like Bluesky, but wish I could use a Tapbots app for that service instead of the website.

Instagram on the web is much better than before, but I’ll probably get back to using the iOS app again once I have the full follow list in place. Still happy I hibernated my LinkedIn – it will be there if I need it in the future, but don’t miss it day to day…


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Fixing admin email on 7 Minute Miles

Posted February 19, 2024

Finally spent some time to remove a blog-related item that’s been on my personal to do list for a long, long time. WordPress websites have the ability to send out emails for various tasks, but the web server needs to support sending mail. I’ve been using a plugin from Noor Alam called Gmail SMTP that uses Google’s email infrastructure to send messages and that worked great when I was hosting 7minutemiles.com email using Google Apps for Domains. When that service was no longer free, I moved my email over to Apple and knew that broke the plugin and I would need to find another solution.

Fast forward two years (oops). Had an idea of signing up for a free general Gmail account and tying that address to the old plugin. Headed over to the gmail.com signup page and found that 7minutemiles@gmail.com was available, so I grabbed that. Next, I needed to go to the Google Developers Console and follow the instructions on the plugin howto page. That was mostly straightforward and I was able to get a green SMTP connected icon on the plugin settings page. The Test Email tab, however, gave me the following error:

There has been a critical error on this website. Please check your site admin email inbox for instructions.

Since admin emails were not being sent, there was nothing in the site admin email inbox. The comments on the howto page had a great suggestion, though – check the logs. Looking at /var/log/nginx/error.log, I saw this reference to curl:

2024/02/19 05:50:47 [error] 163214#163214: *464402 FastCGI sent in stderr: "PHP message: PHP Fatal error: Uncaught Error: Call to undefined function curl_init() in /var/www/7minutemiles.com/wp-content/plugins/gmail-smtp/class.phpmaileroauthgoogle.php:179

Checking on my PHP config page, sure enough, curl was not installed. That was quickly fixed with this:

sudo apt install php8.2-curl

All is right in the Gmail SMTP world again: Google SMTP server + OAuth 2.0 protocol + TLS encryption…


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State Fair Benches, NO MOR

Posted January 21, 2024

It’s no secret our family loves the Minnesota State Fair. I’ve still managed to go every year of my life, and realized the same is true for my daughters too. One of the long-time items on my bucket list was to “Sit on a Kingsbury Bench at the State Fair,” which up to this point involved a $2500 donation to the Minnesota State Fair Foundation.

Given the large financial commitment, I’ve had it pretty low on my list of priorities. There is a yellow “Dave and Colleen” bench from a different family (pictured above), and my aunt and uncle got a green bench a few years ago for their grandchildren that usually ends up on Machinery Hill.

Last week, someone on Mastodon mentioned that the program was going to end this year because they don’t have enough storage space to add more. I hadn’t read anything on the news and the fair did not email us about it (which they are usually really good about). When I checked the foundation website, it did say the program was ending soon and to get your orders in quickly.

I talked it over with Colleen the next day and we decided we should just do it (and agreed on a yellow “Kingsbury” bench). When I went back to place the order, that page now unfortunately said “…after 15-plus years, we have ended the recognition bench and table program. All bench and table donations made as of January 17, 2024 will be honored.” I emailed the foundation right away and received this response:

Unfortunately, we are completely sold out. We will not have a waitlist as the way that we were able to keep the opportunity fair we only accepted submissions with all information and that were fully funded. Our apologies, but stay tuned in future years for more recognition opportunities on the fairgrounds.

I’m no marketing genius, but it seems to me that if you are a non-profit trying to raise money, you should probably figure out a way to take it from people that want to give it to you. It’s fine if you need to end a program for logistical reasons, but the way this program ended doesn’t seem like it was done in a manner that would optimize the financial success of the foundation.

I still love the fair, but it will be hard to hear any future fundraising requests without thinking about how the end of the bench program was managed. Maybe the other Dave and Colleen will share theirs with us…


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Favorite technologies of all time

Posted January 10, 2024

It’s not a secret I’ve been a skeptic of many technologies, especially everything in the crypto/NFT/Web3 realm. Also not a fan of AI tools like ChatGPT and DALL·E (for a variety of reasons). And just in case you think I support everything Apple does, I won’t be in line to purchase a Vision Pro next month (pictured above). I thought all the previous virtual reality “goggle” products were silly. And while I’m sure visionOS will have some swell applications and the hardware will be well built, it’s not worth $3500 to me (never say never, though).

So what technologies have been my favorites?

  • Electricity and batteries – as we experienced during our last power outage, electricity is a modern miracle. And while it seems like batteries could always be better, it’s amazing how often you can use things without a power cord or outlet in sight.
  • Heating and cooling systems – let’s face it, living in Minnesota is probably just as bad for the planet as living in the desert, since you need heat in the winter and cooling in the summer to not have the weather literally kill you here. Thankful for these reliable systems daily.
  • Food production and distribution – I wish we didn’t need food shelves in our society, but Minnesota’s agriculture sector is still awe-inspiring. Modern grocery stores are a marvel – even with the recent surge in prices, the ability to get fresh, abundant food in the middle of winter is extraordinary.
  • Planes, trains and automobiles – also not great for the planet, but these forms of human transportation (and the engineering behind them) would all be considered magic by earlier generations.
  • Television – as my post earlier this month showcased, I have watched entirely too much TV in my lifetime. The progression of the tech behind TV, though, is really something. Think back to the popular over-the-air black and white broadcasts of the 1950s and compare that to what hangs on my wall now. Wizardry.
  • Networking, fiber optics, wireless and the Internet – there’s a reason there are still case studies about Cisco in business schools. This interconnectedness wouldn’t be possible without the thin strands of glass that that now run all the way to my house. That these paths help connect the device I’m currently typing on to the rest of the world (quickly and wirelessly) is frankly, unbelievable. It’s a shame so much junk has accumulated on the Internet, but don’t let that spoil all the good stuff.
  • Microprocessors – I really don’t understand how these things keep getting smaller, faster and cooler, but good on those engineers for keeping the wheels of progress turning. I mean, a lot of people now think there is no innovation in mobile phones because the new models look just like the old models. But honestly, the latest iPhone in my pocket is usually the most impressive technology in our house at any given point in time. Hello, indeed.

Here’s hoping that the technologies of the future can help solve the issues facing our lovely little planet in smart, efficient ways…


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7 Minute Miles design standards

Posted January 9, 2024

It’s been almost a year already since I launched the latest design of this website. I wanted a dark, responsive design with larger fonts and for the most part, I’ve been very happy with the result. This week I made a few more tweaks to the font sizes and padding, as I thought the headlines on mobile devices were a little too big. I’m also not sure my viewport settings are 100% correct, so I need to spend a little more time on the mobile validation sites.

One of the things that I love about personal web publishing is that you can generally code pages to the exact standard you want. I’m not a professional designer by any stretch, but I generally know what I like (and there are a million examples online of what not to do). I also love reading brand guidelines from big companies that aim to preserve their look and feel. Here are some of mine:

  • Colors: black (#000), white (#fff), red (#f00) and gray (#ccc)
  • Fonts: Futura, Verdana and sans-serif
  • Photo captions: italicized
  • Image width: 1000px (was 850px)
  • Image styling: 25px white borders, film frame for concerts and movies

I still support five primary post types on this site: standard, image, link, quote and status. Each of these have their own sections in my style sheet and the home page template has if/then loops to lay each one out differently. Made a few tweaks this week to the quote and link styles (and don’t really use status now).

Comments have been off here for a long time now and I still feel that most public websites are better without them (hope the Star Tribune will eventually turn them off, along with their annoying auto-refresh tag). I do wish there was a better way for people to communicate with me here – perhaps there are some creative plugins I’ve yet to discover. A few other editorial choices at 7 Minute Miles: no ads of any kind and (starting this week) no more jumps on longer posts (i.e. – “click to read more” links).

At some point, I may go back and try to re-style some of the images for the current design standard. When I used to have a white background, I’d often use black drop shadows in Photoshop and now those images just don’t work right. My CSS file still has a bunch of entries that I could probably remove without breaking anything. Also thinking about adding back an RSS icon (with a link to the feed) and creating some personal business cards with the site design elements.

The annual site anniversary post isn’t scheduled until March, but I did take a look at the WordPress Jetpack stats for this site in 2023: 6,406 visitors, 19,074 views and 822 likes. Two very old golf posts still are the most popular: past champion “Reflections on Spring Hill Golf Club” with 238 views and the new #1, “Somerby Golf Club Notes” with 326 views.

Thanks for visiting!

Edit (2/2/24): changed the image styling standard to a 10px white border


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The best TV shows of all time

Posted January 7, 2024

The Sopranos 25th anniversary story I linked to this week made me think, what are my favorite TV shows of all time? I asked Colleen this question and she had no difficulty coming up with her top 7: The Wire, The Sopranos, Charlies Angels, The Carol Burnett Show, Looney Tunes, Sesame Street and RuPaul’s Drag Race (with an honorable mention to The Flip Wilson Show). Me? I have trouble narrowing down my top 7 shows on HBO, let alone of all time.

Let’s start with HBO. I *loved* all of these shows: The Sopranos, The Wire, Game of Thrones, Deadwood, Treme, Entourage, Big Little Lies, True Blood, The White Lotus, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Barry, The Larry Sanders Show, Six Feet Under, The Last of Us, The Righteous Gemstones and Westworld. More than one needs to come out of this group, for sure.

When I look back at the shows that were popular while growing up in the 70s and 80s, there are some personal favorites that jump out to me: M*A*S*H, WKRP in Cincinnati, The Muppet Show, The Dukes of Hazzard, The Brady Bunch, Welcome Back, Kotter, The Love Boat, Hawaii Five-O, Hogan’s Heroes and Gilligan’s Island. Animated favorites included The Scooby-Doo Show, The Flintstones, Tom and Jerry, Rocky and Bullwinkle, Looney Tunes and The Jetsons.

Shows my mom liked that I watched a lot include The Rockford Files, The Carol Burnett Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, Quincy, M.E., The Streets of San Francisco and Magnum, P.I. Of course there were the channel two PBS shows she let my brother and I watch: Sesame Street, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, The Electric Company and 3-2-1 Contact. Also loved staying up late until she got home from work, so Johnny Carson and David Letterman were both huge influences.

Launched in late 1989, The Simpsons started a string of “modern” animated series that influenced a ton of shows I’ve watched since: Futurama, Disenchantment, South Park, Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, The Critic, Bob’s Burgers, Family Guy and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (tried to like BoJack Horseman, but that one just never clicked with me).

I’ve had a long love of British television, starting with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and continuing with shows like Red Dwarf, Blackadder, Mr. Bean, Father Ted, The Vicar of Dibley, The Benny Hill Show, The IT Crowd, The Office, Ballykissangel, The Young Ones, Da Ali G Show, Coupling, Absolutely Fabulous, Derek and Black Mirror. The last few years, I’ve watched Downton Abbey, Poldark, All Creatures Great and Small and Annika – loved them all.

Before the rise of the streaming services, there were a string of very solid network shows we watched regularly: In Living Color, the original CSI, Twin Peaks, The X-Files, The Wonder Years, Modern Family, The Office, Community, Scrubs, Arrested Development, Survivor and Saturday Night Live (the last two we still watch regularly). There are a bunch of shows that I believe were produced by various cable networks that were also stellar: Mad Men, Portlandia, Letterkenny, Kids in the Hall, Schitt’s Creek, Kim’s Convenience, The Killing and Bosch.

Showtime produced Dexter, Weeds and Yellowjackets. FX did Fargo, Sons of Anarchy, Nip/Tuck, Justified, Dave and What We Do in the Shadows. Hulu has Only Murders in the Building, Reservation Dogs, The Bear and The Patient. Disney Plus has the great Star Wars spin-offs: The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett and Andor. Apple TV has Ted Lasso, Slow Horses and The Morning Show.

Lastly, there is the original king of the streamers, Netflix. Looking at this list, their history is nearly on par with HBO: Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Beef, Lupin, The Queen’s Gambit, I Think You Should Leave, Peaky Blinders, Stranger Things, Ozark, The Crown, Wednesday, Squid Game, Orange is the New Black, Narcos, The Politician, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Bloodline, Emily in Paris and Lilyhammer.

If I’ve learned anything from this little exercise, it’s that I’ve watched *a lot* of television during my lifetime. Thanks to all the talented creators for many, many hours of entertainment – bravo!

P.S. – I will continue to ponder a top 7 list, but wow is that hard…


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Nashville Anniversary Trip

Posted December 24, 2023

Realized recently that I need to do a better job of writing up vacation summaries so I have something to go back to in the future when people ask about places we’ve visited. I get so caught up in posting individual things when we are on the road that I know things have been lost. From now on, I’ll still do those posts while traveling, but make sure to write a longform story with a full photo gallery when we get back. Don’t have these for our last two Hawaii trips, but here’s one for our recent quick trip to Nashville…

As I mentioned in my Oak Ridge Boys @ Ryman post, I needed to find a small window in my work schedule to celebrate our 32nd wedding anniversary. With a work concert scheduled on our actual anniversary (12/14), I decided to plan a two-day midweek trip just before that. I asked Colleen if she’d be OK with me surprising her on the destination and somehow we all managed to keep it a secret until she got to the gate.

We flew Delta early Tuesday morning, leaving MSP at 7:15am and arriving in Nashville at 9:35am (I kinda forgot both cities are in the same time zone). Picked up a Chevy something from the National Emerald Aisle and rolled into the Melrose location of Hattie B’s for some Nashville Hot chicken for lunch. Got there a little quicker than I expected, so we wandered the Publix grocery store across the street until the restaurant opened. It’s always fun to see what local items grocery stores carry in different parts of the country.

SK and I had tried the Hattie B’s at the Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas and I’m glad I picked this one to try in Nashville (Nashville Eater had a bunch of other options for Nashville Hot – Prince’s Hot Chicken and Bishop’s Meat & Three were also in my notes as possible stops). Colleen had the Southern “no heat” option, while I wimped out and tried the mild (which was Minnesota perfect). For sides, we shared the crinkle-cut fries, baked beans, creamy cole slaw and the Belgian waffles with honey butter. Would go back again in a heartbeat and based on the Tuesday lunch crowd, I’d say that’s a common opinion with the locals.

After Hattie’s, Colleen asked to go to Third Man Records, which I had totally blanked out as having a Nashville location (the other two are in Detroit and London). Turns out it was less than ten minutes away and we were browsing the small, but awesome store in no time.

In addition to the 1947 Voice-o-Graph recording booth made famous by the Neil Young album A Letter Home, this location also had a Mold-A-Rama machine “CURRENTLY OUTFITTED TO SCULPT A FIRE-ENGINE-RED MINIATURE MODEL OF JACK WHITE’S CLASSIC WHITE STRIPES-ERA AIRLINE GUITAR” and a performance space called the Blue Room Bar.

There wasn’t a ton of merchandise for sale, but there was a very high percentage of things I wanted to buy. Colleen made a record in the Voice-o-Graph, which pushed out a single side 45rpm platter, just as advertised. I restrained myself and only purchased a few stickers, but some of the clothes were very tempting. If Jack hadn’t made me so upset about his phone policy, I probably would’ve spent way more money there.

Next up, Colleen had a recommendation from a friend about the Johnny Cash Museum. It was also within 10 minutes of Third Man, so we parked in a lot nearby and were browsing the insightful displays early in the afternoon. Before this trip, I wasn’t super familiar with the layout of the popular downtown Broadway area, but this museum was just a block away from all of that (and also across the street from the main Goo Goo Cluster store, which we also visited).

The museum was well worth the $26 admission price for fans of the Man in Black and we both learned quite a few new things about him. It’s not a huge museum, but I think we spent about 90 minutes looking around (lots of pictures in the gallery below). The gift shop was a bit of a let down – don’t think either of us ended up buying anything.

We packed up and drove to our hotel to check-in and get ready for dinner. I had originally planned to book us at the Four Seasons Nashville, which was in development at the same time as the Four Seasons Minneapolis that I helped open. Instead, I got a reservation at the “Saint Paul Hotel of Nashville,” the Hermitage Hotel. Opened in 1910, this 5-star beauty is one block from the Tennessee state capitol and was home to the War of the Roses women’s suffrage movement.

We valeted the lovely white Chevy and went up to our very nice, historic room on the fourth floor (yes, we had room 420). Not much of a view, but the king-sized bed was very comfortable and there was an awesome chaise lounge at the foot of the bed that I loved. The fancy bathroom had a shower and large soaking tub, along with a TV built-in to the mirror (which was honestly kind of weird). We received turn down service, then headed to our dinner reservations at the hotel restaurant, Drusie & Darr by Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (who also had a restaurant in Minneapolis at the Chambers Hotel from 2006-2009).

With our early 5:00pm reservation, we were the second table to be seated in the large, beautiful space. The host and our server were friendly and knowledgable. We ordered the burrata with cranberry compote as a starter, then had the simple prep salmon and cod with a side of mashed potatoes. The soy miso sauce served with my salmon was amazing. The little anniversary chocolate insert that they served with our dessert was a nice touch. The room had filled up by the time we left for the show (the bar was busy the entire time).

The Ryman was about a four block walk from the Hermitage, an easy ten minute hike in the relatively warm December evening. I already talked about the show itself in the other post, so I’ll just mention that the line to get in stretched all the way down the hill to Broadway, but moved quickly. After the show, we walked around the outside of building, but areas were blocked off by the tour busses. I had planned to have after-show drinks at the Nashville outpost of Attaboy, but we were tired and just walked back to the hotel and went to sleep.

My original plan was to sleep in on Wednesday, then hit Shotgun Willie’s BBQ for lunch before heading to the airport. Instead, I woke up early and took a solo walk around downtown, starting at the state capitol, then heading down to the Cumberland River and back up Broadway. Got pictures of city hall, the Cathedral of Seven Sorrows, Nissan Stadium (home of the Titans), the Hard Rock Cafe and the Nashville Apple Store, which is literally right next to the Ryman.

On my way back to the hotel, I stopped in at Rise Biscuits Donuts and picked up some breakfast sandwiches. Since we were still full at checkout, we decided to hit Shotgun Willie’s at the end of their hours (Wednesday through Sunday, 11am until 3pm or sold out) and go to the Nashville Zoo at Grassmere first.

Located about 20 minutes south of downtown, this zoo had some of the best interactive exhibits we’ve ever seen. Colleen got to feed and interact with a flamboyance of flamingos and we LOVED the Lorikeet Landing exhibit, where we made many new nectar-loving friends (including one guy who wanted to nest in my coat pocket). Other highlights included white rhinos, very active meerkats, a gibbon island and some cool saddle-billed storks.

Shotgun Willie’s was about 30 minutes away from the zoo in East Nashville (near Attaboy), but it also allowed us to drive by the Grand Ole Opry complex. Willie wasn’t kidding about the “or sold out” part of their hours, as we had a limited selection of what was left at 2pm. Colleen got the last of the chicken, while I tried the brisket. For sides, we had dill pickle potato salad, baked beans, cole slaw and Texas sheet cake. The staff here was amazing and they had a steady flow of people wanting to get the last bit of BBQ for the day.

It was a quick drive back to the airport and everything went smoothly from there (thanks, Delta!). Our plane back was an Airbus A220, which I don’t think I’d ever flown before. It was super nice and still had that new plane smell. Loved having the 2+3 configuration in the main cabin – Colleen and I had the A and B seats in our row and didn’t have to share with anyone else. A nice end to a nice trip…


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The Oak Ridge Boys @ Ryman ✅

Posted December 18, 2023

“See a show at the Ryman” has been on my bucket list for a long, long time. I’ve been subscribed to their marketing email list for a while and always marveled at the lineup of shows they get each year. Didn’t really know all of the Grand Ole Opry history in the building, as our family didn’t grow up watching Minnie Pearl and the gang, but a lot of my favorite current acts stop there regularly.

When I started planning a surprise anniversary trip for Colleen, I had a very small window due to my current work schedule. Took a quick look at the Ryman calendar and saw there was a two day window that included the Christmas show by The Oak Ridge Boys, a family favorite for Colleen growing up. Thanks to some very kind connections, I was able to buy two tickets on the main floor in the “golden circle,” up close and personal.

I’ll write more about the rest of the trip soon, but the concert experience was extraordinary. You could just feel the history ooze out of every corner of the venue. The sign listing artists that have played there is like the First Avenue stars on steroids. The acoustics were great and the guest service staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Very nice gift shop near the entrance, which used the latest Evolv screening gear to move people along quickly.

We’ve seen The Oak Ridge Boys a few times at Mystic Lake, but had never seen the Christmas show before. This story from The Tennessean (via MSN) says it’s the first time they have ever headlined the Ryman, which I find somewhat amazing. If you look closely at the crowd shot in that story, you can see both of us. Oddly enough, Setlist.fm didn’t even have a plug page for this show, so I created one (but don’t know what songs were played beyond Elvira, American Made and Blue Christmas).

They are billing this the “American Made Farewell Tour” celebrating 50+ years of touring. Joe Bonsall is the youngster at 75, but he needed to be assisted on and off stage and stayed seated on a stool for the whole show. Found out he had a pulmonary embolism in June 2022 that impacted his legs. Duane Allen and Richard Sterban (Mr. Baritone) are both 80 and the man with the amazing beard, William Lee Golden (pictured above), is 84. He actually shares a birthday with kid two, so he will be 85 next month.

Very fun show in a must-see venue for anyone who loves the history of live music…


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Pearl Jam @ Xcel September 2023

Posted November 25, 2023

After writing my Eagles post, I realized I started a draft for the Pearl Jam show back in September, but never finished it off. Colleen has been in the Ten Club for a very long time and Setlist says we’ve seen them ten times now, tied for the most of any artist. Every time they go on tour, fan club members are offered the opportunity to buy tickets and we would’ve gone to both Saint Paul nights if it hadn’t been for our conflict with Duran Duran at the state fair grandstand.

On this tour, Pearl Jam was doing two shows in each city, with a night off in between. Since we couldn’t do the first night, we ordered two tickets to the Saturday show (reviewed by Jon Bream of the Star Tribune). Tickets are supposed to be assigned via seniority in the club, but we’ve never received great spots in the past. This year was not a great experience – they moved us *three* times before telling us that was our actual spot (each time we got farther and farther from the stage, unfortunately).

After reading Ron Hubbard’s review of the Thursday show, I had some serious FOMO that I missed this:

The volume and adrenaline gradually rose with each song before lead guitarist Mike McCready kicked his folding wooden chair aside during the fifth number and rose to launch into a soaring guitar solo on “Black” from the band’s 1991 debut album. Soon Vedder was up, then guitarist Stone Gossard and bassist Jeff Ament, and the rocking had clearly begun.

Black is my favorite PJ song and of course they didn’t play it again on Saturday. Our show overall turned out to be just fine (as they always are) – just different (setlist and pics after the jump). I’m sure there are lots of Saturday fans that were happy we got Jeremy, Better Man and I Am Mine that the Thursday crowd did not. Wasn’t crazy about the Purple Rain cover, but a lot of people liked that we got that one (I believe for the first time in Minnesota). My highlight was definitely McCready playing the solo in Alive behind his head. I guess the lesson is to just go to both shows in the future – competing shows be damned.

The other lesson is to buy your merch ahead of time (even outside before the shows, as was offered for this tour). We got there when doors opened, skipped the outside trailer and got right in line. They had date-specific shirts, posters and stickers for each night and our shirt was already gone by the time we got to the front of the line (I did get the sticker, pictured above). It was sad to see them listed on eBay after we got to our seats (and not available for purchase on the PJ website like other bands do). The Saint Paul hockey jerseys looked cool, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger at that price. Props to the band for selling “authorized bootlegs” of every show, though – just downloaded that tonight…

Setlist (first five songs seated)

  • Pendulum
  • Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town
  • Off He Goes
  • Nothing as It Seems
  • Daughter
  • Do the Evolution
  • Last Exit
  • Once
  • Who Ever Said
  • Brain Damage (Pink Floyd cover)
  • I Am Mine
  • Take the Long Way
  • Even Flow
  • Severed Hand
  • In Hiding
  • Unthought Known
  • Corduroy
  • Porch
  • Encore:
  • I Won’t Back Down (Tom Petty cover)
  • Last Kiss
  • Got Some
  • Jeremy
  • Better Man
  • Alive
  • Purple Rain (Prince cover)

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Eagles @ Xcel ✅

Posted November 20, 2023

My mom was a big Hotel California-era Eagles person, so naturally one of my first vinyl albums was Eagles Live (which, damn, was released…November 7, 1980). Pretty sure I also had 1979’s The Long Run as well. Side two of that one had some really amazing songs, but I always thought “The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks” was one of the funniest songs I had ever heard in my ten years on Earth.

Fast forward to the super-expensive Hell Freezes Over Tour of 1994, which I skipped because, well, money. Don Henley had the original quote, but just saw this Glenn Frey gem: “I just rule out the possibility of putting the Eagles back together for a Lost Youth and Greed tour.” We unfortunately lost Glenn in 2016, so I never got to see the “real” Eagles perform live.

When the current edition of the band announced The Long Goodbye Final Tour, I looked at the prices and thought I’d probably skip it again. But when I found a solo ticket at the lowest price point in the front row of the upper section at Xcel, I decided it was time to go. The closest I had come before was Joe Walsh opening for Tom Petty in the same venue on June 3, 2017 (four months before he passed).

I was also excited that Steely Dan was scheduled to open, as I had never seen them either. Donald Fagan unfortunately was hospitalized with an undisclosed illness and The Doobie Brothers were announced as the replacement opener for the two Saint Paul shows. We saw them at the fair in 2021, but without Michael McDonald (due to covid). This time I got to see him, but Tom Johnston was now out with a bad back. The perils of rocking into your 70s, I suppose…

I enjoyed the opening set, particularly getting to hear McDonald sing lead on “What a Fool Believes,” “Takin’ It to the Streets” and “Minute by Minute.” As Ross wrote in his review, he was “more Michael McDonald-y than ever.” And my internal comparisons to Will Sasso doing Kenny Rogers made me smile too.

The headliners opened with a lovely version of Seven Bridges Road and played hit after hit, including three Joe Walsh solo songs and Don Henley’s solo hit The Boys of Summer. Previous stops had Hotel California as the last song of the encore, so I was surprised when they played it as the last song of the main set. According to Setlist.fm, both acts played the exact same set lists both nights in Saint Paul (Eagles night one, Eagles night two, Doobies night one, Doobies night two).

Nothing personal against Vince Gill and Deacon Frey, but the songs they sang lead on just weren’t the same. Both were solid and sounded great, but those songs to me were just high quality covers. The Vince Gill versions are more twangy and countrified, which is fine, but I wish I had seen the pre-2016 tours. Jon Bream’s review said the duo “did commendable work filling the void left by Deacon’s father” and I think void is the right word.

The Don Henley remark was funny: “There are no balloons, fireworks or butt wagging. Just a bunch of guys with guitars.” There were several really great guitar moments and I liked that they used actual pictures of Saint Paul on the screens during In The City. Almost forgot to mention, personally very emotional to hear Tequila Sunrise too – even if it wasn’t Glenn singing…

Eagles Setlist – Friday, November 17, 2023

  • Seven Bridges Road
  • Take It Easy
  • One of These Nights
  • Lyin’ Eyes
  • Take It to the Limit
  • Best of My Love
  • Witchy Woman
  • Peaceful Easy Feeling
  • Tequila Sunrise
  • In the City (Joe Walsh song)
  • I Can’t Tell You Why
  • New Kid in Town
  • Life’s Been Good (Joe Walsh song)
  • Already Gone
  • The Boys of Summer (Don Henley song)
  • Funk #49
  • Life in the Fast Lane
  • Hotel California
  • Encore:
  • Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh song)
  • Desperado
  • Heartache Tonight

The Doobie Brothers Setlist – Friday, November 17, 2023

  • Rockin’ Down the Highway
  • Here to Love You
  • Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While)
  • It Keeps You Runnin’
  • Jesus Is Just Alright
  • Minute by Minute
  • Black Water
  • What a Fool Believes
  • Takin’ It to the Streets
  • Long Train Runnin’
  • China Grove
  • Listen to the Music

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Five Years of Bonus Time

Posted October 8, 2023

Hurray! Today marks bonus birthday number FIVE after the big brain experience on the U.S. Bank Stadium train platform in 2018 (here are links to the previous bonus time posts: year one, year two, year three and year four). The whole episode now seems so distant – very happy to have this history here (and still so, so thankful to everyone involved).

Everything health-wise continues to be good – don’t need to go back for any follow-up for another two years and my eyesight has evolved to the point where I can even play golf again without glasses. I do still tend to wear them while driving at night, but that’s about it. My old TBI eye specialist has moved on, so I started seeing the regular family eye doctor this year. He said my prescription has changed slightly, but gave me the option to hold off on a new order.

Feeling more fit since I started a real training plan for the recently cancelled TC 10 Mile and the activity logs for the past year have all been active. Didn’t bike as much this year, but played more golf and logged more real running miles. Bought some actual hiking shoes this year and spent a lot of time at nearby Afton State Park (and almost signed up for the Afton 25K – hope to do that next year, along with Get in Gear and the Milk Run). Still throw my name in the annual London Marathon drawing, but have never been picked. Disney 2025?

Speaking of Florida, we attended our first ever spring training games in Fort Myers this year and had a great time. My brother and his wife drove over from Orlando for some of the games, which was wonderful. Not a lot of other travel this year, but we continued to cross new restaurants off the list, went to a lot of Twins and Saints games and had a good year of concerts (Smashing Pumpkins, Jerry Harrison, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Cure, Duran Duran, Pearl Jam and Peter Gabriel, among others).

And speaking of concerts, I’ve recently returned to the sports and entertainment world in a newly created technology role at Target Center. I’m excited to learn a new league and learn how arenas operate compared to stadiums. While there are a lot more events, the technology infrastructure is smaller and it will be a fun challenge to optimize the operation. Also excited about the Life Time Fitness facilities in the basement of the building – what a great thing to have for Minnesota winter workouts.

Go Wolves! 🏀


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MyPrecious15ProMax Experience

Posted September 24, 2023

‘Tis the season for my annual iPhone Upgrade Program membership to kick in. This year I moved from a purple iPhone 14 Pro (256GB) to a blue titanium iPhone 15 Pro Max (256GB). The notification and pre-order process went smoothly, as I received a timely upgrade email and also had the correct information populated in the Apple Store app on the older phone. It’s nice that this has all worked without major issues for several years now.

The UPS delivery person brought the new phone to our house on Friday and I decided to do the phone-to-phone transfer process again instead of restoring from the iCloud backup (which I also ran manually on the old phone immediately before starting – just in case). The time estimate displayed laughingly said it would take 10-15 minutes, but I needed to let the process run overnight. Even then, it didn’t download all the apps to the new phone until I hit the continue button Saturday morning.

Despite the long setup time, big kudos to the team at Apple that is responsible for engineering this upgrade process. Trying to create a process that works reliably for millions of customers with a basically infinite number of combinations just blows my mind. Here are some examples from my particular setup:

  • All of my Apple Wallet items transferred seamlessly (with the process to add my Wings Credit Union debit card now all online with no need to call them like before) – Apple Card, tickets, Science Museum membership card
  • All photo, music, iMessage and health data just worked on the new phone (did need to sign-in to MyChart to restore that app)
  • My third party calendar app Fantastical asked me to sign in again, but then all the correct calendar data appeared
  • All my favorite third-party games data transferred with no issues this time: Two Dots, Lightning Link, Star Wars Card Trader and Words with Friends
  • Password management didn’t skip a beat – 1Password transferred over after a sign-in on the new phone and all of the iCloud password management worked as expected
  • My 2FA accounts in Google Authenticator did not automatically transfer, but the export/import process via the double QR scanning worked great (make sure you don’t erase your old device until you do this)
  • Didn’t experience any of the software update issues I had read about – the setup process started by first telling me I needed to update to iOS 17.0.2 before transferring data from the old phone
  • Re-pairing with my Apple Watch was much smoother this time (and was part of the upgrade process and not something I needed to handle manually)
  • I had to reauthorize the new phone for CarPlay in my Honda Civic, but after that everything just worked as before (needed a new USB-A to USB-C cable)

I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to go back to the larger size again, but really, really wanted the 5x optical zoom lens only available on the Pro Max. So far it fits OK in my pocket and the in-hand feel and overall weight are much better than I expected. The build quality of the iPhone Pro models continues to be on par with the excellent MacBook line of laptops – I really don’t want to use anything else.

Hopefully I can go more than a week without scratching the screen or dropping it on the floor (yes, I’m still a no-case, no-screencover daredevil)…


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First look: Porzana and Flora Room ✅

Posted September 11, 2023

It’s been a few weeks now, but when I heard that Daniel del Prado’s newest bar and restaurant in the old Bachelor Farmer/Marvel Bar building was taking reservations, I lucked out with a 5:30 spot on Saturday, August 26, 2023. Just like our old favorites, we planned to hit Flora Room downstairs right when they opened at 5:00, then head upstairs to Porzana for dinner.

Parking in the North Loop is now worse than ever, so we were initially excited by the open meter spot in front of the restaurant (on 2nd Avenue North). But just like at Alma, the City of Minneapolis allows restaurants to convert these spots during certain hours to “valet only” and the app wouldn’t let us park there. The “helpful” valet also ran over to our car to inform us we couldn’t park there. I dropped off Colleen and declined to pay their valet charge on general principal. If you are willing to walk a few blocks, there is a nice little cheap lot along the river next to the North Loop Playground (N 4th Ave & W River Parkway).

Getting in the bar is the same as before and to be honest, I didn’t think the room looked all that different from Marvel Bar (Colleen had a different opinion). I asked the bartender what their most popular “original” drink was and he directed me to the Alsace ($16 – egg white, riesling, peruvian agave, lemon, lychee, grapeseed oil, orange and rose blossom). It was a great pick, one that I liked a lot more than the drink I had upstairs (the name of which escapes me now). With the long walk from parking, I basically needed to drink and run up the stairs to get to dinner on time (escorted by former Marvel Bar staffer Keith Mrotek).

The upstairs layout is all different now. The side entrance on 2nd Avenue is locked, with the main entrance on the corner of 2nd Avenue and First Street (where the old cafe was located). The old main level bar is still there, but it’s now basically all one giant dining room now (plus a large outside patio). I would’ve preferred to be in the back area near the kitchen, but we were seated in the front area, which had very close, very loud tables.

The good part of being up front was watching the crowd flow in all evening. Bill Summerville was working the front of house and it was really nice chatting with him again. Former Four Seasons coworker Paul Hennessy is now the Porzana General Manager and it was great to talk to him as well (he also previously worked at TBF).

Colleen and I ordered the bread basket ($6 – apple cider vinegar butter, brown butter) and glazed carrots ($14 – ricotta, honey, crispy shallots, thai basil), then waited. And waited. And waited. Turns out one of the larger, louder tables got our order and just ate it. One of the managers noticed, came over to apologize and said those items would be taken off our bill. They fired replacements and also brought over an order of complementary empanadas ($14 – pork, llajua verde).

For the main dishes, Colleen ordered the Chilean sea bass ($36 – early butternut squash, brown butter, sage) and I went to the “LIMITED” section of the steak menu and picked the 14 oz gorgonzola striploin ($65) with a side of tallow fries ($14 – ketchup, kewpie). We both loved our dishes and I need to go back with SK to continue exploring the very large steak selection (reminiscent of Burch – RIP). Skipped dessert on this visit, as we had been at that table a very long time by that point.

When our check arrived, there were no adjustments, so we needed to wait longer for that too. For a busy, high profile new restaurant that had only been open less than a week, some slack needs to be cut, no? I like all the people behind it a lot, so I’m sure “Chef Danny” and the team will get the kinks worked out. I’d like to go back again soon…

RECOMMENDED


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Web browsers on Apple platforms in 2023

Posted July 26, 2023

When I look back on web browsers I’ve used on macOS over the years, it seems like I find one I like and just stick with it for a long time. When The Browser Company announced that their new Arc browser was out of closed beta this week, I thought I’d download a copy and take a look. David Pierce at The Verge has been raving about it since last year, but I’m stuck in my ways and a lot of the concepts Arc introduces would take some time to really figure out. I ended up spending about 30 confused minutes with it before deciding to look at everything else out there right now too.

I vaguely remember the days of Netscape, then Firefox, then Safari, then Chrome. Internet Explorer was the evil actor in this story, both on Windows and macOS. As someone who has published websites for fun and for work, web standards were always the goal versus anything proprietary and tied to one browser. As market share has shifted, this goal always seemed elusive, as people would build sites optimized for whatever was the most popular. Thankfully for Mac users, most Windows or IE-only technologies have died out over time and “the web” has become more of a neutral platform. And with the rise of mobile, iOS and Android browsers are probably more influential now on standards than any of the others.

For quite a while now, I’ve used mobile Safari on my iPhone and iPad, but Chrome on my iMac and MacBook Pro. Not really sure why I never went back to Safari on macOS, but Chrome seemed to push out Internet Explorer as the new “standard” for web publishing. I don’t really run into many sites that only work on Chrome (which happened a lot with IE-optimized sites), but I just got comfortable with Chrome – both at work and on my personal devices. It also tied in with my Google ID, which I was using for hosted email and my YouTube account.

So what are the things I look for in a good web browser?

  • Display websites correctly
  • Password management
  • Sync bookmarks across devices
  • Privacy and tracker controls
  • Ad blocking support
  • Customizable toolbars and tabs
  • Seamless support for WordPress administration
  • Speedy, but power and resource efficient

Looking at the current landscape on macOS, some of these features are implemented via browser extensions. In the Chrome world, I was running the following: 1Password, Duck Duck Go Privacy Essentials, Privacy Badger and Google Arts & Culture (a lighthearted extension that just loads a random artwork picture as a background in a new, empty tab). Turns out that there are now Safari versions of the first two, with Privacy Badger promising Safari support soon. I’ve been a (mostly) happy customer of 1Password for a while now, but will be interested to see how system-level password management continues to evolve on Apple platforms (along with passkeys).

Beyond Arc, I downloaded and installed the other new kids (Brave and Vivaldi), along with the current versions of the older kids (Firefox and Microsoft Edge). After following and reading Apple evangelist for Safari and WebKit Jen Simmons on Mastodon, I also wanted to revisit the latest version of Safari (16.6 on Ventura 13.5). I’ll cut right to the chase: Safari 16.6 might be as far as I get in evaluating browsers other than Chrome for the time being. I did end up deleting all traces of Edge from my machine (which was a challenge), but I’ll leave the others installed for more evaluation later.

It had been a fairly long time since I last launched Safari on macOS, so all of my bookmarks were old and there were random extensions installed (including “Open in Ivory” by Tapbots and “Subscribe to Feed” by NetNewsWire). I added 1Password and Duck Duck Go Privacy Essentials, then exported and imported my Chrome bookmarks. Still need to do some cleanup, but overall I like the layout and customization options of the Favorites Bar and how tabs look in the “Separate” tab layout view. Not sure why my version doesn’t have the “Show color in tab bar” toggle in settings, but I’d really like to turn that off (the Compact layout seems to still have it in advanced settings). I tried to find a command line way to change it via a default write, but Google search let me down on that front.

The built-in Safari privacy report button is nice and I’m looking forward to adding back Privacy Badger when that is released. I think that will also help with the layout of ad blocking – I’d prefer that when an ad is blocked, the space is automatically reflowed to make the overall layout more natural (for example, the giant banner ads that the Star Tribune and New York Times like to display at the top of their home pages). Also not a huge fan of the short URLs in the search box, but there is a setting for that and the alternative isn’t much better. It would be nice to have hover tooltips over links too so you quickly see if they are spammy or not. Lastly, sync across devices only partly works for me so far.

So there you have it. I’ll give the built-in Safari a good go for a few weeks and report back. I know Google has had some bad press over their Web Environment Integrity project, but that wasn’t my primary motivator to start reviewing other options to Chrome. It really is something that all of these options exist now, no?

Happy browsing!


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Top 7 Internet Services

Posted July 23, 2023

It seems like there has been so much negativity around social media and other online mediums lately, I thought it would be a fun exercise to think about my personal top seven list of internet services that are (mostly) positive.

Let’s jump right in:

  • #7 – Wikis. I’ll admit I thought this software was kinda dumb back in the day, but sites like Wikipedia and Setlist.fm really showcase the power of group knowledge to record and document history. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s usually a great start and I reference both of these sites regularly.
  • #6 – Smart People. Having access to smart people online is a killer resource, but sometimes it takes a lot of effort to find and follow them. In the past, this may have meant mailing lists or discussion boards, but a lot of that basically shifted to social media (none of which have a great track record). I do rather like the curated follow list I have right now on Mastodon (and to a lesser extent, LinkedIn) and there are tons of reporters I like to read on traditional news sites (local, national and international).
  • #5 – Music and Video Streaming. On the music side, I’ve written before about my slow move from physical CDs to a local digital library to streaming, but I’m now all in on Apple Music. I know this is a bad thing for local record stores and radio stations, as I don’t really use either now. It also sounds like it’s not great for a lot of artists either, but it’s hard not to enjoy the ability to listen to almost anything instantly. On the video side, we still haven’t achieved the cord-cutter holy grail of paying just for what you want, but it’s moving in the right direction. Lots of warning signs out there right now, though, so hopefully this doesn’t get completely screwed up.
  • #4 – Maps. I’ve loved maps since I was a little kid reading National Geographic. In hindsight, I’m amazed I didn’t enter the GIS field, seeing how much I like technology and maps. A few years back, I added a bookmark in my browser toolbar for Google Maps and use that all the time to look up news events, figure out directions, find bike routes and many other things. Wasn’t an early fan of Apple Maps on my phone, but it’s improved a lot and usually gets used now even when I know where I’m going.
  • #3 – Shopping. This category also seems like a dual-edged sword: convenience and low prices vs. the death of small local businesses (not to mention questionable labor practices and environmental impacts). But I’m not just talking Amazon here – shopping for cameras at B&H in New York, comparing reviews from Target and Best Buy and finding rare and out of stock items on eBay are all things that weren’t possible when I was growing up (or were much more difficult). I still prefer to buy some things in person (most groceries and clothes, for example), but other items are just way easier from Bezos & Company. The Target app pick-up routine is pretty stellar too.
  • #2 – Cloud Computing. This was another thing I thought was dumb in the beginning – mainly because I thought it was just marketing hype. I hosted this site for many years on Mac mini hardware that I sent off “to the cloud,” co-located in various data centers that were not my house. Of course today’s cloud world is much more advanced and I have my current playground set up at AWS (that Bezos guy again). I only scratch the surface of all the things you can do there, but it is so much easier in my use case to fire up a virtual instance in Lightsail and go from there.
  • #1 – Blogs. I’ve written a lot about how much I love publishing this site, but it’s still amazing to me that anyone in the free world with time, knowledge and a relatively small amount of money can have an avenue to self-publish their message to most of the world, instantly. The way I do it takes a little more effort, but there are lots of easier and cheaper options out there too. I own my data, have full control over the look and generally have few restrictions on what I can publish. People can find me via search engines (which all seem to be getting worse), follow the RSS or ActivityPub feeds or add this blog as a bookmark in their browser (hi, family!). Love it.

There are still days when I really want to unplug from everything and move to a cabin in the woods, but this list represents why I would probably still want that cabin to have a high-speed internet connection…


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The Art of Being Social

Posted July 7, 2023

This picture from Andy Allen of all the various Twitter-like apps now fighting for attention, along with Meta’s launch of Threads this week, really made me think about the current state of social media in 2023. As I’ve written on this site many times in the past, I find social media to be a fascinating bit of technology that has had a profound impact on life in the last two decades.

I also don’t really like most of it. Hmm.

When I think back to my primary uses of social media, it’s really been as much to stay informed as it’s been to stay connected to people. Since launching this site back in 2006, I’ve supplemented social media with posts here to keep family and friends updated on personal news (and have often automated connections between those services and this site). It automatically produces RSS feeds and content is now pushed to the Fediverse using the ActivityPub plugin. I also love this site as a way to learn new technologies and skills, such as WordPress, PHP, MySQL, Linux and AWS.

It seems like one by one, my favorite social media companies have done questionable things (Doctorow’s enshittification) that caused me to close up shop: Facebook, Instagram, then Twitter. I miss family from Facebook, restaurants from Instagram and some really awesome people on Twitter. I still keep my LinkedIn open for work reasons (after closing it once) and I’ve really grown to like my Mastodon experience. Was never on TikTok or Snapchat and it seems like I will be on the Bluesky waitlist forever (their new domain revenue model is certainly interesting). Don’t think I will try Threads at this point, given my issues with past Facebook products, but I am cautiously optimistic that the promised interactivity with the Fediverse will happen.

Aside from the time commitment of keeping up with the volume of my Mastodon newsfeed, I’m still a huge fan of the Tapbots team and their Ivory Mastodon client for iOS and macOS. It gives me everything I want: chronological feed of just the accounts I follow, synchronized across all of my devices, with no ads, “promoted” posts or other weird algorithm junk. I’m now following 334 people as of today and I believe the quality of a feed is directly related to how well you curate your follow list. I’ve also found that allowing or muting “boosts” from certain accounts helps a lot too.

So what other supplemental things do I still use outside of social media? Group texts have become much more common with our family and friends. It’s fast and (generally) secure, offering easy ways to share photos and keep in touch across platforms (hello green bubble Android friends). Don’t really email all that much outside of work and other commercial interactions. Currently out of the Teams world, but that may be hard to avoid forever. I still love using NetNewsWire to read RSS feeds, but that volume seems to be dropping a bit lately. Apple News is a part of our Apple One Premier bundle, but it’s always seemed a bit off to me (nice to get around some paywalls, though).

Speaking of paywalls, I do still like to financially support a handful of traditional news websites (Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Washington Post, New York Times, The Economist and Racket). I use two ad blockers with my primary web browser (Duck Duck Go and Privacy Badger) and have to say that browsing the web now without those is just a disaster. Ads in general are awful: just about all iOS gaming ads, ads on paid streaming services, ads you can’t fast forward, ads embedded in social media feeds. The only good things I can say about ads right now are 1) Mad Men, 2) the Super Bowl and 3) the British Arrows Awards (and the last two really haven’t been all that great post-pandemic, to be honest).

It’s encouraging that really smart people keep talking about new social media advances so that I don’t have to sign up for everything to learn what’s going on. It’s also encouraging to see people like Dear Dara post again on Mastodon after 120 days away. I have to laugh when pundits make definitive statements about new services like Bluesky and Threads when one isn’t open to the general public yet and the other has been live for two days. Things evolve, projects and companies change, people can be jerks. Stay tuned…


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11 Minute Miles 🏃‍♂️

Posted June 26, 2023

As I wait on the TC 10 Mile drawing results tomorrow, I’ve been pondering my running future. My former marathon training partner Megan visited last week and we joked that if we ran another Disney marathon, it would now be an 11 minute mile (although I seriously doubt she would be that slow). Unfortunately for me, though, my 2023 race results have actually been that slow (11:32 at Get in Gear and 11:03 at the Milk Run).

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled to be running at all right now. Since the aneurysm, I’ve finished five slow Get in Gear 10Ks, two slow Milk Run 5Ks, one slow 12.5K trail race and one slow half marathon (plus lots of slow hikes and walks). I’m also fully back on the mountain bike and still mostly walk with an ultra light golf bag for my golf rounds. The move streak on the watch is currently at 1,167 days and I’m now slowly increasing the daily calorie goal each week to help with my new “MeGovy” philosophy.

What is MeGovy, you ask? Well, at my last physical checkup, my doctor and I discussed my weight plateau. Despite all the activity and move rings (and no real change in my eating patterns or diet), my weight was at the highest it’s ever been. I’ve talked to a few other active men of a certain age and this is apparently a common thing. The doctor was like, we now have drugs that actually work – do you want to try Wegovy?

This drug was developed for diabetes and is now popular for weight loss, usually giving a 10% reduction with reportedly minimal side effects. But it’s in short supply, costly and not covered by many insurance plans. I’ve also heard most of the weight comes back if you stop taking it. So I’ve decided to try one final “MeGovy” exercise plan of making “me go” more miles this summer to see if I can get similar, non-drug-induced weight control.

I’ve got the new shoes, now I just need Twin Cities in Motion to pick me tomorrow so the training can begin…


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The DK Apple Wish List/Road Map

Posted June 21, 2023

Now that the WWDC news has faded (and resurrected again today with the new beta releases and SDK), I’ve started to think about what my next purchases will be. I’m super fortunate to have great working gear right now, so there is no big rush on anything. Apple hardware just lasts such a long time: my home office iMac is from 2017 and my Apple Watch is a Series 5, which was released in 2019. I use both daily and they still work great.

My laptop, tablet and phone are all newer and also get heavy daily use. Thanks to the iPhone Upgrade Program, I do tend to turn in phones every year for the newest model. My only decision this year will be if I want to move back up to the larger screen or not. If the best camera ends up being exclusive to the Max, I’ll probably do a 256GB Pro Max.

If I were to order a new work laptop today, I’d go with the new 15-inch MacBook Air. $1499 for the base 8/512 model is a great value. A fully loaded 24/2TB model goes for $2499, which is what I’d get for a personal use laptop. My 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro will likely last a long, long time, though. I mainly use my iPad Pro for watching video on the treadmill, so I don’t see needing a new tablet anytime soon either (same goes for our AppleTV units).

I’ll reserve all opinions on the Vision Pro until the developers go wild and I get a chance to see if my specific optical prescription will even work with the custom inserts. My initial reaction was overall positive (and much different than I expected from the rumors), but also that I probably wouldn’t want one right away. The reality is that I’ve thought that about most of the recent platform additions, but ended up buying all of them in the end (most on launch day too).

Outside of the next phone, though, here are my top 3 wish list purchases: 1) Apple Watch Ultra with Black/Gray Trail Loop, 2) the next version of the AirPods Max and 3) the next version of the iMac…


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Three months on Mastodon

Posted April 23, 2023

Tomorrow marks three months since I joined Mastodon. Just like with Twitter and Tweetbot, I don’t use the web interface of the instance I joined (mastodon.social), but have exclusively used the iOS and macOS Ivory clients, published by Tapbots. I love their work (thanks, Paul and Mark!) – the interface is familiar and polished and my timeline syncs well between devices.

Current stats: 110 posts, 26 followers and following 252.

So what are my thoughts on Mastodon after 90 days? I’ve already written a few posts about Mastodon that you can view here, but I thought I’d write a little today about some big picture things.

In general, I’m now probably spending about as much time reading through posts as I did with Twitter. That’s good *and* bad, as my curated follow list is producing quality content I want to read, but gets to be a lot once I get behind. Engagement so far is lower for me, likely due to having fewer followers here than on Twitter (and I don’t reply to a lot of posts). Also following a bunch of people new to me that I don’t know personally. Not hugely different interaction, though.

The “Mastodon culture” that some critics cite hasn’t really impacted my enjoyment of the platform so far. It definitely exists, but it’s been easy for me to filter out. I don’t really understand the debates about some things (Fediverse vs. Mastodon, intro posts when you have bios), while things like getting more people to add alt descriptions to images is a solid cause. I will never love hashtags, but at least I understand the connection between them and the limited search capabilities of Mastodon (hardly ever used hashtags or search on Twitter).

When everything started to go downhill with Musk and Twitter, there were lots of options that popped up: Post News, Spoutible, Bluesky, Nostr and others. I grabbed an account on Post when I got an invite and I thought I asked to be on the notification list for Bluesky, but I don’t think I will do anything other than Mastodon for now. There seems to be growing advocacy for the platform (and for continued feature improvements). I’d love to play around with my own instance (kingsbury.social?), but the learning curve is quite high compared to other things I’ve done online. Hope to get there eventually, though.

Many times when I get excited about new technologies, I sometimes lose empathy of how that technology is viewed and valued by others. This is probably not uncommon – just look at how much has been written about Twitter (which is significantly smaller than the other major social media platforms). The majority of my family never cared about Twitter and none of them have a Mastodon account. Ask a random person on the street about microblogging or the Fediverse and chances are good those things will be unimportant to them.

That said, I want Mastodon to grow and succeed. I don’t want to see bad actions (and bad actors) be rewarded in the market. An open internet is one of the best inventions humans have ever devised – let’s keep it going, no?


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Mastodon and WordPress

Posted April 16, 2023

Next Sunday will be my three month anniversary on Mastodon and I’m liking it more and more each day. I’ve discovered lots of new people to follow and I’m now trying to post more like I did on Twitter. I had been a little hesitant to create a lot of content on Mastodon because there wasn’t a mechanism to capture those posts on my WordPress-based website like I used to do with the Import Tweets as Posts plugin. But that all changed this weekend…

As of today, the WordPress plugin repository has 38 plugins that are tagged with Mastodon, so I thought it was time to take a look at these in more detail. When WordPress.com owner Automattic purchased Matthias Pfefferle’s ActivityPub plugin, I decided to install and activate it here. Out of the box, it allowed me to see 7 Minute Miles posts by following “@dmk @7minutemiles.com” in my Mastodon client (no space). There are a lot of other options with that plugin that I still need to explore, including their list of other recommended ActivityPub-related plugins like Friends and NodeInfo.

The other big find this weekend was Marco Hitschler’s TootPress plugin. I was a little hesitant to test this one, as it showed fewer than ten active installations and had limited documentation. I was also a little scared that it created new tables in my database to store Mastodon posts (instead of the standard post storage method) and did it’s own thing in my uploads folder for storing images from Mastodon. It also required some API setup on the instance side, which actually turned out to be much easier than getting access to the old Twitter APIs.

So what do you get when all of this is set up? 7minutemiles.com/mastodon/

Since each Mastodon post is not a “real” WordPress post, they need to be on a dedicated page and not mixed in on the main page like I had before with tweets. I think I’m OK with that for now – everything else seems to work great (with the exception of pagination, which I’ve asked about on the support forum). There is a cron job that runs every 15 minutes to check for new Mastodon posts and any attached images seem to be handled correctly (including the alt text). It also captures the time stamp and embedded URLs just work. Nicely done, Marco!

UPDATE: pagination is working now, so I’m not sure what was up with that (I didn’t change anything).


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17 years of web publishing

Posted March 30, 2023

Just like kottke.org, this site is celebrating an anniversary this week. The first post on 7minutemiles.com was published 17 years ago today. If that wasn’t enough to make me feel super old, I also recently discovered that per ICANN, 7minutemiles.com has a creation timestamp of 2002-11-26T19:08:46Z.

Damn. 20 years.

It looks like I didn’t publish an anniversary post in 2022, so let’s look at what’s happened since the 2021 update:

  • Jumped from 12,192 posts to 28,918 (largely due to the new Twitter archive)
  • Still have 201 published pages, but cleaned up and dropped a few
  • FINALLY moved to a mobile-friendly, responsive theme (intro post, longer post)

I had a draft post sitting around forever about my current AWS virtual server setup, but it’s been so long now that none of the processes to recreate it are probably valid any longer. I’ll just say that I’m very happy with the current environment and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend their Lightsail and Route 53 offerings to anyone who wants to experiment with the Amazon cloud. Currently running one instance in Ohio Zone A with 4 GB RAM, 2 vCPUs, 80 GB SSD and Ubuntu 20.04.

WordPress turns twenty later this year and I’m chugging along on the latest 6.2 version (although still with the Classic Editor plugin and no Gutenberg). The new theme helped me get current on PHP (8.2.4) and my backend is running on nginx 1.18.0, with MySQL drop-in replacement MariaDB 10.3.38. The cert process is now fully automated using Let’s Encrypt and so far Just Works™.

Still haven’t really looked at any web server traffic log options for nginx, so let’s take a quick peek at the WordPress.com stats for 2022: 6,843 visitors with 21,664 views and 1,032 likes (which I didn’t even know was a thing). Taking all of those numbers with a large grain of salt, but it is interesting to see that the Spring Hill post got bumped down to the #2 spot (only one view behind the Brian Christopher post).

Thanks for visiting!


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The Business of Mastodon

Posted March 20, 2023

Last month I wrote about the Mastodon tech stack and today I’ll talk about the business of Mastodon: finance, marketing, legal and operations. I’m by no means an expert on any of this, but trying hard to keep in front of a news cycle that seems to get accelerated by the actions of Twitter daily. There is a lot out there to read and digest, so let’s get started.

Background

Mastodon was created by German software developer Eugen Rochko and was first released in October 2016. Five years later, Rochko incorporated Mastodon gGmbH as a German non-profit with him serving as founder and CEO. The Mastodon code is free and open-source software (FOSS) and anyone can download the software from Github and use it to run their own social media site.

There are lots of good introductory Mastodon posts, including the one by Glenn Fleishman that I linked to last month. I won’t go into the specifics of things like the fediverse and the ActivityPub protocol, but people seem to be most interested in Mastodon as a Twitter replacement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (@eff@mastodon.social) has also published a nice series of posts.

As of today, the instances.social website has current stats on 18,196 instances, the largest of which is run by Mastodon gGmbH (mastodon.social). That is where I currently have my account, along with almost a million others (who have posted more than 53 million times). The Mastodon Users bot shows total Mastodon accounts recently surpassing the ten million mark (hard to tell how many active Twitter users post-Elon, but they had roughly 400 million last year).

Finance

With no ads and an aversion to commercial posts, many Mastodon instances are run by hobbyist volunteers. The time and resources to run a larger instance are not free, however, so groups often turn to crowdfunding sites like Patreon and Open Collective to help facilitate monthly or annual financial support. Mastodon.social, for example, has seven levels on Patreon for individuals ($1/month, $8, $10, $20, $40, $200) and three levels for corporate sponsorship ($100/month, $200, $500). The Patreon side currently has 9,667 patrons, raising $33,147 per month.

While all of the software components of Mastodon are free, the expenses associated with running a small instance include server, bandwidth and storage costs (plus time to learn, troubleshoot and administer your instance). There are also a growing number of service providers that offer managed Mastodon hosting for a monthly fee, some for under $10/month. The main Mastodon documentation has much more information about running your own instance here.

Marketing

Mastodon has a reputation for being hard to join, but there are many efforts to make it easier. The user base is growing, but still relatively small in the traditional social media sense. My personal experience so far has reflected both the technical focus and the smaller universe: I followed 395 various accounts on Twitter and currently follow 150 mostly technical people on Mastodon.

I never used the Twitter website and the same goes for Mastodon. I’ve been a huge fan of third party Twitter clients and was very happy to see many of those same companies jump on Mastodon client development last year. My personal favorite is Tapbots, a two-person Texas company that created the excellent Tweetbot for Twitter and now sells Ivory for Mastodon. Having (synching) clients on both iOS and macOS is key to my enjoyment of these platforms and the Tapbots crew is now taking steps to make joining Mastodon easier for everyone.

When I think about who is using Mastodon now, who should be using it and what the overall demographics look like, it reminds me of my old business school marketing classes. My Gen Z daughters don’t currently use it, very few of the non-tech communities I was a part of on Twitter use it and as I mentioned earlier, brands and other commercial users really don’t use it (and haven’t exactly been welcomed). It will be interesting to see if this platform grows to provide these other user groups with enough value to join and participate. I’d love to see more reporters, musicians, athletes, venues, artists, chefs, restaurants, government agencies and public safety organizations on Mastodon.

Corporate and brand accounts are interesting. I think there was always value in voluntarily following brands on Twitter, but I’m not sure how businesses should approach this. I’ve read some people say businesses should run their own instances and assign accounts like they assign email addresses, but I’m not convinced that is the right approach. I’m also curious to see how people use domain names for this purpose – do you use a subdomain of your brand (mastodon.7minutemiles.com) or register something new (7minutemiles.social)?

Legal

Given all of the recent uncertainty with Section 230 and the Supreme Court, it’s a wonder anyone wants to start up any social media instance these days. The threat of lawsuits is real and the legal landscape of Mastodon includes things like the rights and responsibilities of users and admins, requests from copyright holders and law enforcement, backup, recovery and security responsibilities and moderation of content. Some of these may not be critical roadblocks for small instances, but for larger organizations, it might be harder to justify the risk of entering this space.

Moderation of online content has always been a major issue. In order to be listed on the server page at joinmastodon.org, you must abide by the Mastodon Server Covenant, which has four requirements:

  • Active moderation against racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia
  • Daily backups
  • At least one other person with emergency access to the server infrastructure
  • Commitment to give users at least 3 months of advance warning in case of shutting down

The EFF mentioned the Santa Clara Principles on their “don’t screw it up” post, which offers way more guidance on moderation than I ever thought possible. Someone mentioned that Mastodon is like Twitter with HOAs, as every instance administrator sets forth their moderation policies (the “house rules”) and has the ability to ban users and block access to other instances. It remains to be seen whether or not Mastodon admins abuse this power or offer better transparency, due process and accountability than the traditional social media platforms. While you can move your account from one instance to another, it’s not really an easy or complete solution right now.

Operations

In addition to all of the moderation issues mentioned above, the day-to-day operation of a Mastodon instance requires all of the skills of a traditional website: performance tuning, scaling, maintenance, backup and monitoring. Even the large, well-managed instances have been hit with outages and DDoS attacks and the security of the core Mastodon codebase is still somewhat suspect (but like all open source projects, can be reviewed and generally patched quickly).

It’s interesting to see staffing levels on even the largest instances in the Mastodon world (and how this compares to Twitter and the other platforms). There seems to be little redundancy in roles and there are many things that can go wrong (and indeed there have been some recent high profile instances that have shut down). While community support for admins exists, I haven’t seen much outside the managed hosting world in terms of formal support contracts. As user counts grow, however, I’m sure we’ll see more options develop in this space.

Summary

Personally, I love what Mastodon is becoming and how it’s filling the void left by the unfortunate direction Twitter has taken under Elon Musk. If I could make a living running an instance or helping advise others on the Mastodon universe, that would be exciting. Perhaps I will start out with a small, personal instance for our family. Or perhaps I will just try and get more friends to try it out with existing instances. But if it’s good enough for formal Apple support, hopefully Mastodon will continue to grow and be around for a long, long time…


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