Johnny T’s Guide to Resourceful Home Improvement

Johnny T’s Guide to Resourceful Home Improvement

Home Improvement

Home improvement projects are a staple of spring and early summer. The last few weeks I could be found out in my yard. Turning over flower beds and replanting them, framing up the new driveway with gravel, and painting the porch columns. I’ve never been really good at home improvement or gardening projects in the past. Mainly because I’ve never had a place that I could do this kind of work at. But after living here for a year, I decided to get to work this spring.

Home improvement can cost an arm and a leg sometimes, and for us, paying someone else to do it is out of the question. Nor can I afford the high end supplies that would make my home worthy of Better Homes and Gardens. But that doesn’t mean I don’t try. And over the last few weeks I’ve learned a lot of little tips for sprucing up the home, that won’t run your wallet to death.

Pictures used from here on down are tall taken by me of the home improvement projects I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks. I’m not a master at this, I’m not a gardener, painter, or landscaper. But these are just to illustrate how resourceful home improvement can make any yard look better.

Gardens and Flower Boxes

An easy way to spruce up the home in spring is the addition of flower gardens and flower boxes. If you have rich soil in your area, then most plants you buy will do very well. Same thing if using the same soil in a flower box. And creating a good looking flower bed and box does not require spending a fortune. I maybe have $100 total in everything I’ve done with my yard so far this year, and only half of that is in gardening.

The goal here isn’t looking for Better Homes and Gardens quality, rather, go by individual taste and how it can make the area around the house look better. As you can see in the photos below, I went with sprucing up the area around the tall bush out front, a small area on the front of the porch, and the two side areas of the porch. The wood used to create the borders around the beds was recycled from something else lying around the house. Any wood will work as long as it is treated. Flea markets are a great place to shop for wood that can be re-purposed.

For flowers, sometimes less is more when it comes to cost. You can look here for a guide on what can grow best in your area. We literally just went to Wal-Mart and got all of our flowers. Lowes will sometimes have a great sale on plants that just need some TLC. You can get a whole cart of plants and flowers for next to nothing. To top it all off after planting, a good layer of mulch can provide an even layer of visual goodness. I get bags of mulch of different colors from Wal-Mart for about $2.50 a bag.

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Now that the flowers have been growing for some time, the gardens have filled in nicely with color, and we’ve even add more since then that came from family members and friends.

Cleaning Siding, Stone, and Brick

Did you know vinegar is best used as a household cleaner instead of a cooking ingredient? Seriously, I never use vinegar for cooking. Every bottle of white vinegar I buy is for cleaning purposes. Maybe I should write about the many uses of vinegar. I digress. Anyway, we’re talking about cleaning vinyl siding, stone and brick. While this won’t give you the quality you could get out of a good professional power washing, it will clean things up noticeably.

Home Improvement Siding Cleaner
Before Cleaner
Home Improvement Siding Cleaner
After Cleaner

The mix that I use is 1/2 warm water and 1/2 vinegar. Sometimes I’ll put a small splash of dish soap in with it. Spray a liberal coating on siding, stone or brick, and let sit for a little bit. For extra tough spots, a little scrubbing with a bristle brush may be required. Then, simply rinse with water. Repeat as necessary. You’ll be surprised at how well vinegar will break up stains, mold, mildew, and other deposits.



New Paint Means New Life

Our front porch columns are a mess. They have cracks running up them and until recently, most of the paint was missing from them. What used to be beautiful white had become weather worn wood color. Of course, we are in no position to be able to replace a porch, or even just the columns. Column wraps are available but that requires precise measurements and cutting. That’s something else I’m not so good at. What did we use instead? Some patching putty, gallon of paint, brush, and small roller.

The same could apply for just about any kind of outdoor wood fixture that needs a touch up. Filling in cracks in the wood with a good sealer putty, and giving it a couple of coats of fresh color. Our columns don’t look perfect, but they do look much better than they did, and it makes a noticeable improvement to the front view of the house. Mail box posts, window shutters, painted wood furniture, all of these can be improved with minimal effort, time and money.


Framing Sidewalks and Driveways

Edging is pain in the ass. Admit it. Trying to perfectly trim up weeds and grass down sidewalks, pathways, and driveways can drive even the most seasoned yard veteran crazy. So why not make sure you don’t have to do that? Sounds like a plan right? Not only can you cut down on yard work time, but adding a nice border around sidewalks and driveways can bring an inviting look to your dwelling grounds.

Plastic flower bed edging is cheap and when installed correctly, it can create a variety of shapes and borders for your sidewalks and driveways. Filling in the area between the edging and the pathway with gravels, or mulch and small bushes can turn any plain area of concrete into a lovely area of yard to look at.

Home Improvement Driveway Border

Cleaning and Staining Outdoor Wood Furniture

Everyone knows that there’s only so much cleaning you can do to outdoor wood furniture before you rub the finish off and it starts to fade. Sun is very good at fading the color of wooden furniture too. Luckily, there are plenty of household goods that can be used to bring out the best in your wooden furniture again, and it can be resealed for longer lasting visual pleasure.

The same vinegar and water mix used above for siding and stone can be used to clean up wood furniture. Wood is especially good at trapping mildew and mold in its porous surface, and scrubbing is often required to get the wood clean. Black tea bags and instant coffee can be used well to bring a little color back to your outdoor wood furniture. Keep in mind, these won’t be as dark and rich as something you can buy at Sherwin Williams, but we’re looking for resourceful and low cost. Using the methods 2 or three times after a good cleaning can bring a natural looking stain finish to wood furniture, then for around $2.99 a can of all weather clear coat can seal in that finish to last longer than the original.

And there you have it. Johnny T’s guide to resourceful home improvement. Do you have any DIY home improvement projects that you’re doing? Any other tips on how to do things with a low budget? Drop your projects and tips down in the comments below!

Living Under the Shadow of Cancer


Cancer. The bastard disease of humankind that kills without hesitation, without prejudice. It is one of the most dreaded words in the medical world, especially if you are a patient. Cancer will turn a world upside down, backwards, and inside out. And more than likely, cancer will be what kills me in the end. That’s a depressing thought to have I know. It’s one of those things that is just ingrained in my mind, and something that contributes to daily anxiety. Let me break it down for you.

My Cancer Story

It was in the fall of 2012; September 11 to be exact. I was in the emergency room at a local hospital. Having been poked and prodded, run for an ultrasound and through a CT machine, I already knew that I wouldn’t be leaving that day. The ER doctor comes in and delivers the line that would rip my world apart. “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.” It was cancer. Testicular cancer that had gone undetected. It spread from my groin to my abdomen, and on up through my chest and lungs. It was bad. Really bad.

In the months that would follow, I would undergo 3 surgeries, and 4 months of chemotherapy. Hospital stays became so common I carried a “just in case” bag with me to the doctor and any trip to the ER I had to make. Blood clots, high fevers, a blood transfusion, all became a part of my life. In February of 2013 I would receive the best news of my life: I had made it. I survived. My cancer was in remission.

Cancer: A Family Disease

I would not be the first one in my family to have to experience cancer, and I wouldn’t be the last. My great-grandfather was diagnosed with throat cancer when I was younger. My grandfather was diagnosed with prostate cancer when I was 24 and passed away in 2008. My mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2015, and my father had a brush with thyroid cancer just last year. This doesn’t include all of the other extended family I know that fought with cancer too.

Call it a series of unfortunate events, but my family has become really good at preparing for and fighting cancer. It has become a part of every day discussion and worry. Cancer has found a way to be the one thing I fear more than clowns, and that is pretty serious. It’s not a fun commonality to have with your family members. It’s better to have the same like in music, or politics.

In The Shadow

If you read up on cancer recurrence, how family history contributes to your chances of getting cancer, and how a personal history automatically raises your chances of getting cancer again, it’s not hard to do the math. Statistically, I am more likely to die from cancer than anything else as far as medical conditions go. This is knowledge I live with and I don’t think there is a day that goes by that some part of that thought enters my mind.

I am almost five years out from treatment now. I go twice a year for checkup scans and it never gets any less stressful. We in the cancer community call it “scanxiety”. It’s a special kind of anxiety that just grips you when it’s time for follow-up scans and appointments. I nervously pace around the house in the days between my scans and my appointment. Every scenario that starts with the phrase “What if” is analyzed and response planned to a needle point.

Ask anyone you know who has survived cancer, and they will likely tell you the same thing. There is a shadow that you live under after cancer. One that seems a little darker than the other shadows of life. The cancer shadow does not fade with the light in life, and it loves to wrap its arms around you when you are the most vulnerable.

Staying Ahead of the Shadow

This is where life really gets interesting. When you consciously make a choice to stay ahead of cancer’s shadow, good things happen. It took me a long time to reach that point. For two years after it was over, I let my experience with cancer define me. I let physical leftovers turn into mental stumbling blocks, and truly wondered sometimes if it would ever get better. The change didn’t happen immediately, but it didn’t start until I made the decision to start it.

The realization that cancer was a part of my past and not my current state was a huge one. I realized that, while I still may deal with the after effects, I can be more than the experience made me. It was at this point in my life that I decided, you know what? I’m going back to college. I set a goal of achieving a degree and finishing out with a stellar GPA. Once I put my mind to it, the rest wrote itself.

I am now a college graduate. I earned my degree while taking care of my kids and the house. I hit my goal of a 3.5 GPA and I even made it out with a few honor society graduation cords. I let the cancer experience be the springboard that sent me forwards, instead of the roadblock that held me back. Everything I have done since starting school, has been done because I decided to let the shadow stay behind me.

That’s life under the shadow of cancer. For some, it’s a dark place that makes you want to hide under every tree, rock, and cave. For others, it becomes the platform on which life slowly starts to get better and things move forward because life has new meaning. I have been in both camps. The shadow of cancer continues to follow me, but it can stay behind me throughout this journey. I have places to go and things to be.

Cybersecurity: Securing and Protecting Your Home Network

Cybersecurity: Securing and Protecting Your Home Network

Wireless Router

Active cybersecurity extends way beyond the companies we deal with, and right into our own homes. Take a moment right now and count: How many devices are connected to your home network? Include anything from phones, tablets, and computers, to smart hubs, thermostats, and appliances. How many other people have your network credentials when they come visit? For our home, the number is staggering.

At any given time I may have up to 7 devices connected, and up to 8 more when friends and family come visit. To put it into more of a security point of view, that’s up to 15 different attack points on my home network. 16 if you include the router too. That’s a lot of security to have to think about. At-home cybersecurity is a necessary part of having a home network. While we won’t be talking about security on individual devices, we will be discussing how to lock down your network, and keep it as safe and secure as possible.

Wireless Router Security

Chances are, if you have a home network, it is wireless. I mean, come on, it’s the most convenient thing ever to not need to be wired into a network anymore. Nobody likes that. But a lot of people make mistakes with their wireless networks at home that make them easy targets for cybercriminals. This usually starts with the password. Most wireless routers and modems come with a preset password. At first glance, these seem like strong enough passwords. They are the right combination of letters numbers and characters, and are the perfect length.

However, these passwords are easy to get your hands on. Cybercriminals often maintain a “word list” of common router default passwords and it’s not hard to find. So the single most important thing you can do to begin securing your home network is to change this password. Remember the proper password protocols when selecting yours.

  • Do NOT use words like “password” and number sequences like “123456”. Come on, you’re better than that.
  • Try to avoid using dates like your birthday or anniversary in passwords.
  • Do NOT use credit card numbers or bank account numbers (DUH)
  • DO make your passwords at least 8 characters or longer. The longer the password, the harder it is to guess.
  • DO use a combination of numbers, letters, and special characters (when allowed).
  • Do NOT use one single word. Attackers can have dictionary lists that will use that word at some point.

In the past, I have taken to using a random string generator to produce my network passwords. Why? Because it’s not something I’m easily going to remember or be able to tell anyone by mistake and B) It’s guaranteed to be the length and makeup that I specify. I keep my passwords in a safe place not on my computer for reference if I need them.

Wireless Security Key TypesParallel to this choosing the right kind of security encryption key for your wireless router. You’ll notice when you go to input a security key when signing in that there is usually a drop-down list of different types of encryption like the picture to the left. The strongest encryption that comes with most home based network routers is WPA2. Sometimes this is listed as WPA2/Personal or WPA2- Personal with AES. This is what you want to use.

Older methods of encryption like WEP are the least secure and in most cases obsolete now. They can be easily broken with the right software by someone with bad intentions. So choose the right kind of encryption and a strong password key that matches it for the best way to secure your wireless router.


SSID: To Broadcast or Not to Broadcast

SSID stands for Service Set Identifier, and this is the name of your network. This is what appears on a list of available networks. You know, the ones people think are funny to name “FBI Surveillance Van” and “Get Your Own Wifi”? By the way, those are neither funny nor clever. So pick something different. Here’s the thing about SSID. It is supposed to be used to uniquely identify your network. If you leave it at the default, then chances are you’re going to leave the password the same too, thus making you an easy target. It is also a good tempting target for people who go war driving through neighborhoods.

If you think you have neighbors who may be trying to jack your WiFi to watch unmentionable content, you also have the option to hide the broadcast of your SSID. This means that to connect to your network, both the SSID and your password key will have to be entered. For people just perusing for free WiFi and those on a simple war drive, these networks will just be passed up. However, it should be mentioned that some software can discover the network is there, but it still takes the same guessing of both network name and password to access.

Get Behind a Firewall

Firewalls can be software or hardware based. The difference between the two is that a hardware firewall adds an additional layer of security against wireless attacks. Devices, especially desktop and laptop PCs are some of the easiest targets on a home network, or on any connection to the web really. Software firewalls are built into most major operating systems including Windows and Mac OS. Getting to know how to use firewall settings can be a big advantage to protecting your network. With firewall software you can configure apps to allow incoming and outgoing connections, or to deny these connections.

A hardware based firewall goes a bit further in that it protects all the devices connected to your network. It can also be a little easier to maintain and manage a hardware firewall than separate firewalls on separate devices. On a home network, these can be easily setup in less time than it takes to heat up your oven for dinner. Pricing for hardware firewalls can vary, and you’re often going to get what you pay for. But what really is the price for security and privacy?


These are all just a few basic steps you can take to ensure the security of your home network. Since the advent of wireless internet, and the quick spread and explosive growth of technology, it has never been more important to take your security seriously. You don’t want to end up a part of a botnet, or with your home network invaded and ransacked. These few key tips put you well on your way to smarter, safer, and more secure home network management.



Apples to Androids Part One: Security and Privacy

Apples to Androids Part One: Security and Privacy

Privacy and Security

Apples to Androids is a series on the site that goes through and breaks down what you need to know if you plan on switching from iOS to Android. Looking at it from an analytical standpoint to help you decide if the switch is right for you. View the introduction post here.

Welcome back to the first post in the Apples to Androids series here on the site. This series aims to take an analytical approach to determining if the switch from iOS to Android is right for you, and what you should expect if you do make that switch. Today we are going to take a closer look and comparison at security and privacy between iOS and Android.

There are a couple of things to look at when comparing security and privacy between iOS and Android. First, encryption. What do the two companies do to encrypt files stored on the devices? Next we have to look at data privacy. How do these two companies handle your private data? Finally, we look at security vulnerabilities. How have Google and Apple handled patching their operating systems in the face of new attack vectors?

Apples to Androids


Encryption is the process of converting information or data into a code, especially to prevent unauthorized access. With computers, there are two main types of encryption: Full Disk Encryption (FDE) and File-Based Encryption (FBE). I’m not going go into the technical detail of each, you can find that easily online. So how do the two powerhouses of mobile computing implement encryption?

Apple iOS

Apple has been using File-Based encryption with iOS since iOS 4 with different encryption keys at different security levels. This gives iOS an advantage because app creators can create apps that work when the phone is locked, while still providing security to other sensitive files on the phone. It also gives users more control over what level of encryption they want with three basic types: Complete Protection, Protected Until First User Authentication, and No Protection.

Google Android

Starting with Android KitKat (4.4)  Android used full-disk encryption to add security to their devices.  While it was their first attempts at adding encryption to devices, it was still a dirty way to do it. Since then, Android has been getting much better. Starting with Android Nougat (7.0) Google moved away from just an FDE approach and introduced a more FBE approach. They support two types of encryption: Credential encrypted storage and Device encrypted storage. Credential encrypted storage protects data under the user pass-code and is not available until the user enters they pass-code, but only once. Device encrypted storage is just encrypted by by the hardware, and is available without having to enter a pass-code.

Data Privacy

This is perhaps the BIGGEST topic of conversation for the usual end user when it comes to mobile technology, and technology in general. People want to know that their data isn’t being sold to the lowest bidder at every chance, and that it’s hard for criminals to get their hands on this data. How do Google and Apple do with this?

Google Android

A lot of people look at Google and search and the information that they need to drive ads and they think  “These people are just giving my data away” and that wouldn’t be a true statement. In Google’s privacy policy, they let users know that information is not sold or given away without consent of the user. Why would they want to drive away users when the whole brand depends on keeping people online and connected?

Using Google products like Gmail, Docs, Chrome, Android, and more, keeps your data in a centralized location. It’s not spread throughout a multitude of applications and databases. This can be viewed as a better way for your data to stay secure, granted you use the right password protection to your account.

Apple iOS

Apple is also known for their strict security and privacy of user data. However, they may not be as prone to ask you for your consent. While you can change settings for different services through Apple, they state outright that they may share your information with third party vendors to “provide products or services, or that help market Apple to customers.” No opt-in option for this one.

Apple loves themselves and loves to promote themselves whenever possible. Of course, this isn’t a bad thing necessarily. It is business and a business can’t grow without marketing and securing new customers. However, it is unsettling that they do not make the option of having data given out available like Google does. I honestly found this information a little shocking considering Apple’s reputation for things like backdoors for government agencies.

Security Vulnerabilities

Vulnerability is defined as the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed. When it comes to smartphones, these are usually loopholes that security researchers or those with malicious intent uncover in the firmware. From the appropriately named Stagefright vulnerability that struck so many Android devices, to the Israeli NSO vulnerability that could capture encrypted messages. The ability for people to take action against a device, and the prevention of, are highly looked at components of security comparison.

Apple iOS

Apple has long been good at addressing major security vulnerabilities in their operating systems. iOS is definitely no exception to this. Patches often come quickly as major vulnerabilities are discovered. What makes Apple be ahead of the curve when it comes to this is the fact that they will update many old devices at the same time. This means a 2 year old iPhone has the same chance of being on the latest update, and therefore patched.

This keeps in line with how Apple markets newer products and drops older products on a regular basis to keep users upgraded. This can be expensive, but at the same time, it is a wise move for the user. Newer phones in general tend to get upgrades first. And those upgrades are guaranteed.

Google Android

Android has had its time in the spotlight as a very vulnerable operating system. It’s an easy target for hackers as it is open-source and easy to see where code can be exploited. The fact is also there that Google’s checking of apps in the PlayStore has suffered in the past and allowed more than its fair share of malicious apps. This being said, Google has done much better at eliminating these apps and even being able to verify apps that are sideloaded to the phone.

Android also has a regular release schedule, though it can be a bit more difficult than simply waiting for the next month’s security update. Those with Nexus and Pixel devices usually see the updates on a monthly basis. However, being fragmented like the operating system is, not all manufacturers and carriers seek to push out security updates as fast. So when choosing an Android device, this is something to heavily consider.


It’s a little long, but here you have it. A more detailed look at privacy and security factors to look at when you are trying to decide if you want to switch to Android from iOS. Security and privacy should always be a major factor in deciding what smartphone and platform is right for you. Do the research before you make your decision and know what you are buying into.

Apples to Androids will be back next week and we will be focusing on application compatibility and how you can transition from apps in the Apple App Store to apps in the Google Play Store.

Five Tips for Being a Dance Dad of a Competitive Dancer

Five Tips for Being a Dance Dad of a Competitive Dancer


The smell of hairspray fills the hotel room as I sit here planning what to do between dances. Little Dude is already griping about having to go, and it’s going to be a long day. Solos at 7:30am but the group dances aren’t until 3pm. That’s a long time to hear “Tutus and Tennis Shoes” more than 3 times. We grab the big black box that contains all of the outfits and accessories and makeup for the day, load up the car, and hit the road. Dance competition days can be the longest days of your life.

I am a dance dad. Little Girl has been in dance for going on 4 years now (shout out to Studio 413). She started out taking normal classes and doing your typical recitals. It then progressed into competitive dance, hip hop, lyrical, and starting this past season, a solo performance. She has to get it from my wife who can move to the music. She sure doesn’t get it from me. I can play guitar, drums, piano, almost any instrument you put in front of me. But I cannot dance. Just ask my junior prom date.

This is one excited girl right here.

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LG loves it though. It’s her thing, her passion, so three weekends each spring we hit the road for various dance competitions. Charlotte, Roanoke, Knoxville. We head all over the three states to spend 10+ hours, hoping to watch the dancers from Little Girl’s studio take home the top honors. Over the last few years I’ve learned a lot of little tricks to being a dance dad. So today, I share with you my top five tips for being a dance dad. Let’s get started!

Dance Dad Tip #1: The High Ponytail

I’m bald. I have been for quite some time. So hair isn’t exactly my thing. I can sculpt a beard, but I don’t know anything about having long hair. The high ponytail is a standard hair look for dance practices and recital rehearsals. If you learn any hairstyle for your dancing queen, it should be this. Trust me on this one. It will be known if you do it incorrectly. I’ve never had another dance parent point it out, but my daughter is happy to do so very quickly when I do it wrong. Check the video below for a quick how-to.


Dance Dad Tip #2: Snack Packs

A dance competition is a terrible place to get hungry. The ones we have been to allow food in the auditoriums, which is good. But if you don’t bring your own, be prepared to shell out some serious cash to keep your hunger down. I once spent $15 on a nacho and cheese, plain hotdog, and bottle of water. You’re already spending enough just to go to competitions, so don’t let them hit you with the snack bar too. Save the money for photos and videos.

We take an insulated lunch box to every competition. We keep sweet snacks, cracker packs, fruits, nuts, and bottled water. Most of the time, they won’t have a problem with you bringing it in. And if they do, you just say it’s for the dancer and there are no more questions asked. So save that dough for something else. Pack some snacks. If nothing else, it keeps you from losing the perfect viewing seat because you just had to have a pretzel.


Dance Dad Tip #3: Learn Your Makeup Colors

Makeup Pallet

The image above is intimidating if you don’t know your makeup. Even though I spent my years as a poser goth and emo kid, I don’t know much outside of the color black. Like, rose and red are two different colors. Salmon and pink are two different colors. At our dance studio (shout out to Studio 413) there are often specific brands and colors that are to be used for dance competitions. Make no mistake. Brands really can have different shades of the exact same color name. Red from L’Oréal may be a slightly different shade than red from NYX.

If it is at all possible, get exactly what is requested by dance instructors. If you can’t find it at your local Ulta, you can almost always find it online and have it arrive before competition time. Also, YouTube can be your best friend when it comes to the best ways to apply different types of makeup. Get to know the different brushes, and always remember that if you don’t know what foundation to use, Cosmo has you covered.


Dance Dad Tip #4: Learn the Routines

Remember up top when I said that I can’t dance? Well, that’s still true, but I always try to learn parts of Little Girl’s routines. As the one that is home the most, it’s up to me to make sure she practices and help her remember when she forgets moves. Three dances for one competition create a lot of steps to have to learn. So I try to learn parts of it too. And LG loves it.

She will often create dances for me and her and tune it to some ridiculous pop song. Like I said, she loves to dance. It’s her thing. So when we are goofing off while she practices her dances, I have her teach me the steps. It helps her to remember and helps me to know what she is doing. So don’t be afraid to dance. Learn the steps, do the routines, and then YOU can be the parent in the audience that does the routine in your chair while your child is on stage. Hey, at least it helps to pass the time.


Dance Dad Tip #5: Remember the Good Old Days

Very proud of my baby girl today.

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The days are long and tiring. The music can be repetitive, and it’s easy to become annoyed on such long days. The kids who are dancing and the siblings that come to support know this as well. But the most important thing to remember is that these days don’t last forever. And I’m not just talking about the time in between leaving the hotel and getting back to sleep. Kids grow up so fast it’s insane. Little League turns into varsity. Dance turns into cheerleading, color guard, career.

These are days that make memories of a lifetime. Years from now you won’t remember how long you spent at that competition, but your dancer will remember you being there. You’re not going to remember how much you paid for food, but your dancer will remember how many times she heard you say “I’m proud of you.” Never will you think about the miles you put on your car, but often she will think of the trophies, and the friends, and the music.

And there you have it. Based on experience, my top five tips for being a dance dad to a competitive dancer. What do you think? Are you a dance dad? What tips would you give? Leave your comments below!

In it for the Long Ball: Little League Baseball 2017

In it for the Long Ball: Little League Baseball 2017

Home Plate

Little League baseball season is a special time of year. The smell of freshly cut grass, brick dust, and line chalk bring a nice aroma to the nose. The sounds of the PA system crackling to life for the first playing of the National Anthem and the greatest words “PLAY BALL!”. The clink of bats making contact and the excitement as the games begin makes Little League baseball season all the more worth it.

This year was our third year with Little Dude playing baseball. One year in coaches pitch and two years in the 9-12 division. He has been an All-Star player twice and even played in an inter-league game this season. In the spring, we eat, breathe, and sleep baseball. Well, baseball and dance but dance is a post for another day. This is about baseball.

Love of the Game

I have long loved the game of baseball. The Atlanta Braves, South Carolina Gamecocks, Capital City bombers, and of course, the Dispatch News Little League team of 1991 (the year I played). I have experience baseball in all of its glorious forms. Going to games, watching on TV, watching from the parking lot, listening on the radio. I have seen all from Little League baseball to the MLB and everything in between. Now, I get to make sure my son does the same.

I took Little Dude to his first baseball game 3 years ago. We went to see the Bristol Pirates, the closest minor league team we have. This was after his first season in Little League Baseball. The thrill he showed on his face was absolutely priceless. We got a foul ball, he got to meet some players and even run the bases. He has also spent two summers now doing a week-long camp with the Lexington County Blowfish in South Carolina. We still have to hit a college level game and an MLB game to complete the series. We go often to root on our town Lebanon High School Pioneers.

Life Lessons

But there is more to Little League Baseball than just watching Little Dude go out there and slug it out. We get to watch him, and a lot of other kids, grow as friends, as teammates, and as young men. We live in a very rural area. A in, our town had a population of less than 3500 as of 2014. The kids who play sports in their younger years mostly go to school together and grow up together, and we get to know them and their families over the years.

Watching them transform in front of us is an amazing experience. I have volunteered with all of Little Dude’s teams and helped where I can. These young boys have had some amazing coaches who love the game and love the kids they are mentors to. Little Dude has been blessed with amazing coaches who teach the game well, but teach the important lessons of baseball even more. Persistence, determination, camaraderie, and sportsmanship. Four important qualities of a good gentlemen can be taught through baseball, and other sports too.

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Coaches deserve endless thanks. They work tirelessly and voluntarily to be not just a coach of the game, but a mentor of good values. The coaches lay aside their time that could be spent doing countless other things to be with other children. They endure the hardship of tough parents and tough team losses. They organize and adapt and press on when things get tough. Little League baseball coaches are the unsung heroes of the spring. ‘

2017 Little League Baseball Season Wrap-up

Our 2017 Little League baseball season was absolutely phenomenal. Little Dude’s first time working the infield mostly at second base. He learned a lot about fielding and had several run saving and inning saving plays. His batting suffered a bit this season, mainly due to lack of practice in the off-season. However, he ended his season with a bullet of a double to left field in his final All-Star game. He would score on the following play, and return to score from first in his next AB after being hit by a pitch.

What I’ve enjoyed the most is watching him grow as a leader, and as a good sport. Losing is tough. And in Little League baseball, those losses can be brutal at times. He learned to not be quick to blame others for the loss. He learned how to help keep his teammates lifted despite the odds against them. Little Dude has learned that as he gets older in the league, he is going to be looked at by his younger teammates on how to act. They will look for guidance and leadership from their peers, and he wants to be that leader.

The off-season has now approached us and we look to a summer of growth. Little Dude has decided to join a local baseball academy to work on his form throughout the summer and fall. Pitching, batting, fielding. He wants to return next year as “the man” on the field. Undoubtedly, we will once again watch as he transitions not just as a player, but as a leader. After all, he’s going to be a big middle school kid this coming fall. We will look forward to seeing the other kids and how much they’ve progressed.

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I’ll wait again for the smell of grass, the dust of chalk and bricks, and those oh so sweet words of “PLAY BALL” next spring. The PA system will lay silent until then. The flag will fly despite the lack of a crowd singing to it. And Little League baseball will be the countdown in our minds.

Until next season fellas

Last photo of the 2017 #LittleLeague baseball season. Until next year fellas.

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Apples to Androids Series Introduction

Apples to Androids Series Introduction

Google Android


Apples to Androids is a series on the site that goes through and breaks down what you need to know if you plan on switching from iOS to Android. Looking at it from an analytical standpoint to help you decide if the switch is right for you.

The time has come again at last. Your contract is up, or it’s time to upgrade your smart phone and a debate as old as, well 2008, pops up in your mind. Do I choose Apple and iOS, or do I go with Google and Android? Which one is the best? What company reigns supreme? Who would win in a best of five rock, paper, scissors match?

IDC: Smartphone OS Market Share Chart

If you look at the numbers, Android has an overwhelming command of the market share from 2014-2016. But does this really tell us anything? No, not really. Apple has always maintained proprietary ownership over its software and hardware. Only Apple makes iOS and only Apple makes the iPhone and other related device. Android is a different beast. Android is an open-source mobile operating system, meaning that anyone can compile the source code and build it for a device. Well, not just any device, but that’s technical talk for another time. Because of this open source nature, Android has many different manufacturers like Samsung, LG, Huawei, Sony, HTC, and more.

This gives Android a bit of an advantage in the numbers game when it comes to market share and units sold. But this doesn’t give us a clear picture of which one is truly better than the other. When you break down other aspects of comparison, let’s use security for an example, Apple has a decidedly better platform. If you look at user interface and the ability to customize it, Android holds that award without question.

Both sides of the Apple versus Android debate have their fan boys and girls behind it. They will applaud anything that goes on with their respective operating systems and be quick to put down the other. Hey, we’ve all done it at some point, myself included. But what about those who are on the fence? What if you have used Android for a long time and are thinking about switching to iOS? What if it’s the other way around?

Apples to Androids

Apples to Androids is a new series that is coming along here on my site. It will help answer some questions about the switch from iOS to Android. I don’t know much about Apple products because I’ve never used one outside of an iPod Nano. But I know a lot about Android and I get asked a lot about my opinions, experience, and advice for newcomers. In the Apples to Android series, I will take an analytical approach to the challenges, benefits, and detriments of making the switch from iOS to Android.

One of the biggest mistakes people make when the are shopping for a new mobile device is that people often just look at size and appearance before choosing a device. While that certainly will play a small role in making the decision, it definitely shouldn’t be the biggest role. The first question that needs to be answered when you are phone shopping is this: “Does this phone provide the functionality that I need?” A mobile phone, and even computers and tablets, are only as good as the satisfaction they bring to the end-user. And the end-user is you.

Apples to Androids will break down the switch into different parts that make up the functionality of a mobile device. Security and Privacy, Application Compatibility, Data Storage and Backup, and finally Performance and Specifications. I will get into the definition of these different parts as the series moves on. But that should give you a little bit of a glimpse into what this series will cover.

My personal experience with Android has been amazing. As a fan of open-source software in general, that was my initial draw to Android. That, and the fact that it is based on Linux. It didn’t take long before I started into rooting my Android devices and running custom firmware. I spent a couple of years as a device maintainer for different custom ROM developers. I also spent about a year doing theme work for another. I loved it. And I still do.

During my years as an Android enthusiast, I have watched the frustration of those making the switch from iOS. The confusion of learning a new system, the painstaking task of transferring contacts and other information from one device to another. And of course, the frustration at the fact that there are some apps for iOS that simply don’t exist for Android. There are many apps and features that have Android alternatives however, and when it comes to switching, the time just has to be taken to do a little research.

So there it is. An introduction to the upcoming series Apples to Androids. I know this little intro doesn’t provide a lot but I do hope you’ll stick around to see what is to come. I don’t believe we need another “Five Reasons to Switch to Android Right Now!” kind of post in this list driven internet world. What I do think is we need a good comparison, a good analysis, and a good look at whether the switch from iOS to Android is right for you.

**For those of you who have made the switch from Apple to Android, what do you wish you had known going into it? How did you find the experience? Let me know in the comments!**

Cybersecurity: Social Engineering and Why You Should Care

Cybersecurity: Social Engineering and Why You Should Care


Social Engineering


Call it people hacking, call it spying, call it snooping. Call it whatever you like, but social engineering is a practice that has been going on for a long time. In an increasingly connected society, it is the most useful tool in a hacker’s arsenal.  It uses the error of human emotion to exploit human weakness. This information is gained in a few short minutes and exploited in just a few seconds. Social engineering still remains one of the biggest security threats to this day. And here is why you should care.

The Art of Hacking People

Social Engineering, by definition, is a non-technical kind of security attack. It relies heavily on human interaction, manipulation, and the exploitation of human emotion to get people to break security protocols and give out sensitive information. This can be anything from email addresses and phone numbers to more sensitive information like passwords and other sensitive account information. What makes social engineering unique is that it doesn’t involve any kind of compromise of systems. Once the damage is done it is hard to trace back.

At the most fundamental level, social engineers are like the con-artists of old. Peddling whatever kind of human connection it takes to convince you to do something or tell them something you normally wouldn’t. Like the guys of old who used to sell bogus medicine to unsuspecting people and raking in the benefits of how people feel when they think too much about illness and death. A social engineer is someone with amazing people skills and a very deceptive nature that can often exploit the human experience to their advantage.

Types of Social Engineering Attacks

Phishing: This is the most common type of social engineering attack. The goal of a phishing attack is to get you to open malicious links, and enter your account credentials in a phony form that then sends this information to the attacker. Social engineers usually disguise these in emails that claim to be from different services you use and often come cloaked with a sense of urgency that makes it seem important for you to click and follow the directions. Most recently was a phishing scam that spread like wildfire through Gmail disguised as a Google Doc and compromised the credentials of thousands and thousands of accounts. To benefit, most email clients and services do a better job these days of blocking potential phishing emails.

Baiting: This is very similar to a phishing attack. Except, in the case of baiting, there is a good or service offered in exchange for the sensitive information. This is typically done with downloadable music and movies, in exchange for using something like Twitter, Facebook, and Google login credentials. Another thing that makes baiting different from phishing is that it doesn’t have to rely on digital media. Infected USB drops are a form of baiting that rely on the general curiosity of people that they will pick the USB up and plug it in to see what’s on it. In turn, the USB infects the host computer, usually with a keylogger, and credentials are harvested this way.

Quid Pro Quo: This is another kind of attack that has gotten more popular in recent months and years. With a quid pro quo attack, the attackers offer benefit in exchange for information. This may sound a bit familiar with the spam attacks where attackers call promising to fix security and performance issues with Windows machines. This affects people in the private sector, but attackers also target companies in hopes of finding the person that gives in and gives up information. In most recent memory, this has become more of a scam than an attack as attackers are just running down lists of phone numbers and hoping and waiting.

Why is Social Engineering Such a Threat

Hacker in Hoodie


What makes social engineering such a threat is that it is something that relies, not so much on technical knowledge, but on people skills. When most people think about hackers, they think about script geeks with monster computer rigs, hiding out in the dark, jacked up on Red Bull, and typing away with fury. What most people wouldn’t say is a hacker has “great people skills, excellent verbal communication, and a charming personality”. Not exactly what you would think when you hear the term “hacker” but in essence, it is a very necessary task to be able to pull off now in order to gain access to simple sensitive information. Take this section of “Real Future: What Happens When You Dare Expert Hackers to Hack You” as a great example of how easy it can be.


What Can I Do to Protect Myself

The first thing to do is the most obvious. NEVER give out confidential information about yourself unless you can 100% verify who it is you are talking to. If they can’t satisfy your questions to verify their identity, then you don’t need to be giving them your information. A second to that point is also to realize that real representatives of the companies you do business with will not ask you for a password over the phone. Ever.

Second is on the more technical side of things. Does this email seem to good to be true? It probably is, and you would be best to avoid the link. Can you access your account normally without having to go through what the email says? If you can, don’t click that link. A good line of thinking when a phishing email shows up is to check your account with those services. If there is something actually wrong, your sign in should tell you. But if you can sign in and there are no issues, then you can guarantee the email is an attempt to hijack your credentials.

Do NOT, under any circumstances, allow USB access to your device from anyone you don’t know. Or any device you can’t verify as yours. USB attacks are becoming more deceptive. Often, having the latest security upgrade on your doesn’t mean it can be stopped. Do not trust people to just hand you a USB device and ask you to print something off, open a file, or install a program. Without being able to verify the legitimacy of the device, it can be a hazard.


Social engineering, as stated before, is not a new tactic, but it remains one of the most successful tools in a hacker’s arsenal. Recognizing a threat and combatting social engineering attacks are imperative to defense. Simple and effective vigilance can often be the difference between keeping your information secure, and losing your information, and possibly a lot more.


Let’s Talk About the Essential Phone

Let’s Talk About the Essential Phone

Photo from Essential


That beautiful piece of mobile technology above the Essential Phone. Brought to you from one of the co-creators of Android, Andy Rubin. It’s sleek, it’s beautiful, it’s durable, and it’s…. Just not what we need in a newly announced flagship phone. When I originally decided that I would write a bit about the Essential Phone, I thought I was going to go on and on about it being completely awesome and stuff. But after discussing it more with a friend and taking a better look at the specs versus current flagships, my mind changed. And now, I am kind of disappointed.

Essential Phone Basics

The Essential Phone is model number Essential PH-1 and it will run Android Nougat 7.1 The phone is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 835 and a Kryo 280 octa-core CPU. The GPU is an Adreno 540. It will boast 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage on board. The screen is a 5.7″ 2560×1312 QHD 10 finger multitouch. The shooters on the Essential Phone PH-1 are a rear 13MP Dual RGB+Mono and a front-facing 8MP. Capable of capturing 4K at 30FPS. The battery is an unassuming 3040mAh.  You can read the full specifications here.

What Sets the Essential Phone Apart from Others

Well, for the most part it’s two things: build quality, and the cutout for the front camera. Seriously, that’s about it. This video from the Essential website shows the device during a drop test. The lack of breaking aside, watch the surface of the phone as it reflects everything around it and take the beauty of it in before I proceed.



As you can tell, the Essential Phone PH-1 definitely gets the build right. According to the website the phone is crafted from titanium and ceramic. Unlike aluminum which most phones are crafted from, titanium doesn’t give in so easily to scratching, denting and bending. If you look at the Essential website, it will show the results of corner drop tests and the differences between different build materials for different phones.

The Essential Phone also went with a ceramic backing instead of the glass like backing we see on iPhones and other Android flagships. It’s another move designed to combat the constant breakage and scratching on the backs of phones that happen to easily if you do not have a case. Metal phones are bad for getting nicks and scratches in the back, and let’s be honest, how many iPhone users do you know with cracked backs? The Essential Phone will be a lot harder to make replicate those types of blemishes which is definitely a good thing.

I haven’t gotten to hold one of these devices yet, but from what I know of the build material, the Essential Phone is one that should feel strong, powerful, and durable in your hands. It will look sleek, look new, look the part, and it will feel the part too. But what about the major part of a phone that really matters: performance?

Where the Essential Phone Falls Off the Hype Train

The Essential has mainly gained its hype through its form factor and build quality, the funky cutout around the front camera (which I absolutely love) and because of its creator. Andy Rubin is not just a name that people know because he worked for Google and Android. He’s known because, to a lot of people, he IS Android. So when Andy Rubin says he is putting out an Android phone, people in the community pay attention.

But this is where the Essential Phone falls off the hype train. Compared to other flagships and upcoming phones like the OnePlus 5, the Essential Phone PH-1 just doesn’t have it. It doesn’t have that oomph factor that makes it truly something, especially given the price. Now, to be fair, at $699 I don’t think it’s a bad price. The build materials give it just enough extra flair to warrant a price that is up there with what you pay outright for a new iPhone. But what about specs? What about what matters most to an Android enthusiast? Well, for that, let’s compare the Essential Phone PH-1 to the upcoming OnePlus 5 and the newest Samsung Galaxy S8+.

SpecificationEssential PhoneSamsung Galaxy S8+OnePlus 5
Screen Size5.71"6.20"5.50
Screen Resolution1312x2560 pixels1440x2960 pixels1440x2560 pixels
Phone Storage128GB64GB64GB Internal - Up To 256GB External
ProcessorQualcomm Snapdragon 835Samsung Exynos 8895Qualcomm Snapdragon 835
Processor Speed1.9GHz octa-core1.9GHz octa-core2.35GHz octa-core
Battery Capacity3040mAh3500mAh4000mAh

The deck is stacked against the Essential Phone in comparison with others. And I could add more to this table if I really wanted to take the time to do so. As far as price, everything is what I would expect when you factor all the parts that make a phone what it is together. Samsung is going to be on the pricey side because they are the only real Android competitor to Apple. Which sucks, because I don’t like Samsung devices. But statistically, they sell the most. OnePlus has been stunning the world since they released their first phone, and the OnePlus 5 is sure to not disappoint. And at almost half the cost of the Essential Phone. The OnePlus also packs a more powerful punch to it. The specs listed in the table above are what most Android enthusiasts are going to look at. The Essential Phone just becomes a bit of a let down in that category.

What’s the Takeaway on the Essential Phone

I’m not here to try to discredit Andy Rubin and the Essential Phone. I do truly believe it is a good device, sleek-looking, and more than likely, it will perform well for most normal Android users. But here’s the thing: Myself and my circle are not what you would call the “normal” Android user base. We’re power users, super users, and we don’t take our devices at face value when they are capable of much more.

While it is nice to see a manufacturer put something a little more professional and sleek-looking like the Essential Phone, what Android doesn’t need is another company trying to mimic the iPhone to draw customers. Android is not iOS and Android devices are not iPhones. Google already went this route with the Pixel line. And while I think the Pixel is a great device, we can’t dumb down to think that from a design standpoint, this was the closest that Google has come yet to an iPhone. The same applies to the Essential Phone.

My final verdict on the Essential Phone is that it is a nice looking device, it is a capable device, and it is a durable device. But it’s nothing special. It doesn’t make me do a dance to think about having it in my hands, and it doesn’t appeal to me as something tht really stands out from the crowd. Nobody is really doing that right now (and that’s a subject for another blog post.) Maybe in due time we’ll see better things, but in the meantime: Stop the train, I want to get off.



Sudo Seriously Fun Linux Command Terminal Packages

Sudo Seriously Fun Linux Command Terminal Packages


The Linux command terminal is key to the use of Linux. Some operating system versions (mostly server applications) run nothing but a command line. No GUI, no buttons to just click and make things happen. Even with a graphical version of a Linux operating system, the command line is a key tool. From upgrading applications or security packages, to running certain commands for administration purposes, or automating processes. Linux command terminal knowledge is a must for a Linux user.

The Linux operating system has been around for quite some time. Like, 26 years and counting. Based on UNIX, Linux is an open source operating system that comes in the form of “flavors” or different community made distributions. Arch, Mint, Ubuntu, Debian, just to name a few, help to make Linux one of the most popular operating systems in the world. There are a lot of things that run on Linux, or systems based on Linux. Android, Roku, The New York Stock Exchange, and even NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab all run Linux systems.

As daunting as it can sound, the command terminal doesn’t have to be all business all the time. So today, I want to highlight my top 10 command line packages available for MOST Linux distributions that can give you a fun break throughout your day. Just a note: I tested all of these before posting to make sure they all still functioned. These were tested in the latest version of Kali Linux, and I cannot guarantee they will work on ALL distributions. That being said, let’s get on with the show!


1. Espeak

Espeak is a multi-lingual text to speech synthesizer that runs in the command terminal. Obviously, I can’t really show you what it does here in writing, but imagine Stephen Hawking singing you a lullaby. That’s what it’s like to use espeak. It’s a simple command with basic parameters that will speak anything you put in quotes. And I mean anything. It accepts certain arguments that allow you to control the pitch, speed of speaking, pause between words and more. It’s easy to get. First you just have to install it, then run it.

sudo apt-get install espeak

and then

espeak [arguments] "What you want it to say".


espeak -v en -s 200 "I just farted"

2. Cmatrix

You guessed it, this does exactly what it sounds like.


This little package allows you to make your terminal look like the scrolling screens in The Matrix movies. This fun little command line toy has quite of few different arguments it accepts to make the scroll act differently. Different colors, different speeds, fonts, and even the option to make it run in screensaver mode. I tricked my son earlier today with this and told him I thought I had broken the computer. If you run Linux around a bunch of people who are not tech savvy at all, this will make it look like you perform wizardry with your laptop.

sudo apt-get install cmatrix

and then

cmatrix [arguments]

For example:

cmatrix -a -B -l -s -C white

3. Rig

This one seems kind of pointless but if you run it right, it can look like you just accessed a data dump of names and addresses.

Rig Linux Command Line

Again, this is probably a pretty pointless command line tool and we all know that the names and addresses are probably completely fake. But there are two fun applications for this. Again, if you are around non-tech people, make them think you are doing something unusual. For added fun, when someone sees it, give them long enough to read an address and then hit CTRL-L to quickly clear your terminal screen The other application is if you work on Linux with this kind of information, quickly fool your boss into thinking you are hard at work while you’re really just browsing Facebook.

sudo apt-get install rig

and then

rig [arguments]

For example:

rig -c 10

4. Asciiviewer

Now this is actually a fun one. I mean, who doesn’t like good ascii art? It’s a hard thing to create by hand (trust me, I’ve tried). But asciiviewer takes care of all that for you. Issue the command and insert the image you want, and BAM out pops the image in ascii art form. Here is the leading image of this post with asciiviewer.

Ascii Viewer

This particular little piece of command line tomfoolery doesn’t take any arguments. As far as I can tell, there aren’t a lot of picture types that it will except, but your basic PNG and JPG images will work just fine.

sudo apt-get install aview

and then

asciiviewer [your image here]

6. Cowsay

This is probably one of the best known little pieces of fun in the Linux terminal. Though, I had to do a few things to get it running on my machine, most of the time it runs without issue. This little package makes a cow pop up when you give the right command and it speaks whatever you type in a speech bubble.


Cowsay comes with a lot of different characters that you can have say what you want including a bunny, duck, Beavis, Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes, stegosaurus, Stimpy, and a lot more. Fun to leave up if you leave your terminal open and are gone for a little bit. Which could be bad if anyone else knows what cowsay is and decides to have fun while you’re gone.

sudo apt-get install cowsay

and then

cowsay -f [character file you want to use] "[your phrase here]"

For example:

cowsay -f sheep "Beep. Beep. I'm a sheep."

7. Figlet

This is another one of the most well-known command line goodies available for Linux. Have you ever wondered how it is that people get an ascii banner across the top of their terminal window in Linux? It’s probably done with adding a figlet command to the bashrc file. Like so:


Figlet comes with a lot of different fonts that can be used and downloaded to use with it. Just another fun little display type deal to waste your time with, or use in scripts to make them a little more presentable when they run.

sudo apt-get install figlet

and then

figlet -f [font you want to use] "[your phrase]"

For example:

figlet -f banner3 "Welcome to The Terminal"

8. Yes – The Loop that Never Ends

This one is almost as pointless as rig, but it is entertaining. Basically, you type yes and then some phrase. After that, it just keeps printing it in the terminal over and over and over. Yup, as I said before, it’s pointless, but fun.


And there you have it.

sudo apt-get install yes

and then

yes [your phrase]

For example:

yes "We have no bananas."

9. Rev

Have you caught on yet that a lot of these are just utterly pointless, yet, when you start using them it’s hard to tear yourself away? Well, introduce to this list, rev, which reverses what you type until you CTRL-C out of it. Which is kind of fun. Especially if you’re one of those people who knows how to make dirty words by writing out numbers backwards or something like that. Here’s me playing with it on my machine. The horribly highlighted lines are my input.


I told you it was horribly highlighted. It could be fun just to mess with people’s heads, but really, there is no use for having the terminal output what you type, except backwards. But either way, here it is.

The rev command is part of the util-linux package and is available from Linux Kernel Archive.

rev [input]

For example:

rev racecar


rev /root/desktop/listofpalindromes.txt

10. Let’s Watch Star Wars

Okay, so this isn’t so much of a command line package that you can download, rather, it’s a geeky little fun thing that you can do. This particular goody uses telnet to operate. Created by Simon Jansen, Sten Spans, and Mike Edwards, this is ascii brilliance. Yes, it’s Star Wars Episdoe IV, in ascii art, viewed through the telnet protocol in a command terminal. Need I say more about it?

Telnet Star Wars

Telnet Star Wars

It truly is a piece of genius, and the guys behind it deserve every beer they could possibly be bought for this. If you really want to waste some time in a Linux command terminal then this is for you.


And there you have it. My top 10 favorite Linux command terminal packages. Have any neat, fun goodies that you like to use in Linux? Let me know in the comments below!