Surviving Cancer: Six Things They Don’t Tell You

Surviving Cancer: Six Things They Don’t Tell You

Surviving Cancer

I became a cancer survivor at the age of 30, just weeks after my birthday. Months before, I was diagnosed with late stage testicular cancer. The months in between the diagnosis and the good bill of health seem like such a blur now. Yet, I remember each and every day like it just happened. It was a tough road to walk that I was forced to travel. Still, the odds ended up in my favor, and here I am today, almost five years cancer free.

When I first received the news of “no evidence of disease” I was elated. That was it. The pinnacle of my life had already been reached. Surely, nothing that came after this would even hold a candle. I have been right on part of that. I have not faced anything as hard since then. But I also haven’t had the rainbows, easy days, enjoyment of life’s every fine grain like I thought I would. What came after cancer was actually a bit of a shock to me.

I’ve had a variation of this post in just about every blog I have written since my cancer experience. But I know there are so many everyday who start wondering “Am I the only one?” There is a lot about surviving cancer that will take a person by surprise, and it’s not what you see talked about that often. From depression, to PTSD, to lingering physical symptoms. So today, I am listing six things that they don’t tell you about surviving cancer.

Your Feelings are not Irrational – They Are Okay

There is this misconception when it comes to surviving cancer that immediately after it’s over, things become all rainbows and triumphs of human skill. The fact is, depression is something that affects 15%-25% of all cancer patients. This often extends beyond the battle and treatment. Other common mental disorders in cancer survivors include PTSD, generalized and social anxiety, and anger disorders.

Feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger, and even guilt are common in the cancer survivor. And that’s perfectly okay. During treatment, it is hard to focus on dealing with so many emotions. That often comes after the fight is over. Know that it is completely normal. Also know when it is time to seek professional help. There is no shame in it. Don’t let others control your emotions for you. Things will get better in time.

 

Physical Symptoms Can Long Outlast Treatment

This has been one of the toughest things for me personally. I expected to have side-effects for the first couple of weeks after ending chemo. I did not expect them to last years later. However, it is common to experience physical symptoms from the treatment, surgeries, radiation, and the damage the cancer does to your body. Some of the most common, long-lasting symptoms include nausea, fatigue, and neuropathy.

This is something that was not really talked about by my oncologist or the nurses there. The more I’ve talked to other cancer survivors, the more I realize I’m not alone in that. While you probably will feel much better once treatment ends, do not be caught off guard by long-term symptoms. Pay attention to your body, note the changes, and consult your doctor anytime you think something is not right.

The Magic of Surviving Doesn’t Happen Immediately

Often when we read about cancer survivor’s it’s about the awesome things they go on to do. Run marathons, climb mountains, start their own businesses, and so on. Which is great stuff. It’s awesome to see what people can do with their lives after cancer. But don’t expect it to be a sudden thing. We generally tend to think that when the experience is over, ALL of that experience is over.

That’s not the case however. Cancer doesn’t just end when treatment ends. The fight can continue long afterwards. A lot of cancer survivors find themselves in a hole after treatment. I felt like I must be doing life wrong because all this great stuff didn’t happen immediately. It’s not to say that great stuff won’t happen. It will, in due time. Treasure your survivorship, but always be prepared to fight, even after treatment has ended.

Survivor’s Guilt is a Real Tough Enemy

“Why me?” A constant question asked by cancer patients. Why did it have to be me diagnosed? Why does my family have to go through this? A very normal part of the process of going through cancer is questioning everything. Because it doesn’t make sense. It never will make sense. Another thing that’s hard to make sense of is why you survived when others didn’t. Survivor’s guilt is a feeling of guilt you get because you are a survivor when others aren’t. And it’s a real mental enemy to have to battle.

It’s a tough to explain emotion to those who do not experience it. But it’s also an important emotion to be able to work out. Survivor’s guilt can eat at you until you find yourself at rock bottom mentally. Survivor’s guilt also contributes to other mental disorders commonly experienced by cancer survivors. Having a strong support network of other survivors is an important part of being able to handle survivor’s guilt when it comes. We’ll never have all the answers, but we can have all the support we need.

Friendships that Faded Will Not be the Same

The toughest lesson I learned from my experience with cancer was this:

“At a time when my life was at a standstill, everyone else was still moving forward. I could not expect them to stay behind and wait for me.”

When first diagnosed, I had a lot of friends that came by, offered support, brought food, and handled the kids so I could rest. But as things went on, the amount of people coming by slowly dwindled. And that was a hard thing for me to come to grips with. I’m sure there are many survivors reading this today that have experienced similar things. Once the experience is over, we happily wish that everything will go back to normal.

This is where things get complicated. Often times, we change when going through cancer. We aren’t the same person afterwords, and rightfully so. But other people change too. Sometimes, the friendships that went by the wayside stay that way. I have had friends tell me they just didn’t know what to expect or how things would go, and so they distanced themselves. I have no anger towards them for that. New friendships will come, and old ones will be remembered. Things change, and I must change with it.

Mortality is the New ‘Not Paying Rent On Time’

When we get older, into adulthood especially, our fears tend to change. They go from fear of death, fear of getting lost, and fear of falling off the bike, to fear of not paying the bills on time, car crashes, debt, etc. As a cancer survivor, one of the worst fears becomes our new found grasp on our mortality. Any brush with cancer is a brush with death. And with that, comes all kinds of new fears.

Staring your mortality in the face is not an easy challenge. And what’s it is over, you find yourself with a renewed fear. The “What if” questions that plague your mind now far outweigh your worrying about bills and debt. The realization of mortality and limited time become the new way of life. This is an important time to have a strong support network, to have great relationships with your doctors, and to really learn what makes a life count.

Do you agree with the six things on this list? If you are a cancer survivor, what is something that you wish you had known ahead of time? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!

A Eulogy for the Drive In Theater

A Eulogy for the Drive In Theater

Drive In Theater
Moonlite Theater Drive In Abingdon, VA

We hardly knew ya, oh humble drive in theater. Those of my generation and the ones to comes will only hear the tales of your greatness. Sitting around photo albums of Polaroids from the 70’s, we will hear of your magnificence. The old timers well talk about romance, and silver screen dreams of the stars of the past. We will listen closely while each part of the experience is talked out in detail.

This would be how I would start a eulogy for the fading drive in movie theater. That is, if I cared that it was a dying relic of the past. But the truth is, I don’t. The drive in theater has been irrelevant for decades now, and will only continue to be so. I understand that they are making a bit of a comeback right now. I get that. But only for the same reason that Polaroids, fancy mustaches, and big wheel bicycles are coming back: hipster culture.

Let’s be honest, anything old that is popular right now is just part of a fad where everyone thinks the relics from our past are suddenly awesome again. Truth is, most of these things are not awesome. And that includes the drive in theater. Besides the ridiculous amount of money it takes to have a relevant drive in, nostalgia is not enough to keep the industry afloat. If I wanted to pay that much for a movie, I would do so for a movie inside with air conditioning and protection from any sudden weather.

Cost and Cars Killing the Drive In Theater

There are a number of reasons for the demise of the drive in theater. First is the rising cost of maintaining and upgrading the automotive movie havens. New projectors to keep up with the standards of filming can costs tens of thousands of dollars. Maintaining the display surface at the drive in can also come at a hefty cost. Then there is concession equipment costs, keeping the lots paved (unless you like parking on mud puddles).

Then there’s the sound system. Most modern drive in theaters now use FM transmission for the movie sound. Which is cool because you can have your windows rolled up and still hear it. But it requires battery power. That leaves you with a choice: Run the battery down or run your gas down keeping the alternator working. Leaving the motor running in idle for 2.5 hours is not a good idea. I could go on and on, but you see where I’m going.

Mother Nature Doesn’t Care About Your Movie

This is another thing about drive in theaters. Mother nature doesn’t give a damn if you had made these plans 2 weeks ago. If she feels like pissing on your parade, she’s going to. Don’t anger a mother. It’s not a pretty site. No, mother nature has zero fucks to give about our plans. That’s why the drive in theater is a nightmare to plan. “Hey, we’re going to show a double feature”. Then the actual night of the showing it’s pouring rain and hail stones the size of the peanut M&M’s you just paid six dollars for.

Sure, I would rather be at a drive in if the power went out, but then again, I wouldn’t be near a drive in if I thought that was even a chance to begin with. I don’t even like getting my mail when it’s raining, let alone go to a movie theater that requires me to have to possibly get soaked, or have the chance of my car blowing up.

Filth and Fornication

The last reason for why drive in theaters should not be around anymore. As generations get raunchier, it naturally goes that they will be raunchier in different places. Coupled with drug use, dirty diapers thrown on the ground, and god knows what else, it’s unsanitary to say the least. Seriously, the only squishing I want to hear under my feet at the movies is a piece of gum spit out on the ground. Not a used condom.

Drive In Theater

What is Better than the Drive In

A regular movie theater. Duh. What I like about a regular movie theater is being in a crowd of people who, when a big blockbuster is first released, experience the wonder together. Everyone jumps at the same times, sees and hears things at the same time. We collectively experience the same movie. That and, oh yeah, no mud to drive in, busted up speakers, running the car, possible getting soaked by rain. No birds crapping through the windows as they look for dropped popcorn.

Even watching movies at home is better. Hulu, Netflix, Putlocker (I’m not judging anyone). An environment that you can control, with snacks that you want, and if you are lucky, nobody else has their little brats there to shout over the best lines. Enjoy your movie your way. That’s something you can’t beat.

Now imagine the future. Virtual reality is sure to have a role in movies eventually. Imagine a first person movie where you are literally in the action. Hear something to your right? Look right and see what it was. Think the monster is behind you? Turn around and find out. Want to talk about messing your pants when watching a movie? Because that’s how it happens.

Let’s take the VR concept one step further. What if, and this is a big what if, you could choose the movie based on the character you wanted to be? Imagine having your friends over, strapping on the VR and everyone is a different character of the movie. How sweet would that be? It would definitely give a whole new set of experiences to talk about after the movie.

So, to finish, farewell to the drive in theater. A remnant of a past when things were different and experiences were new. We here in 2017 enjoy the experiences we have now and the ones that have yet to come. May your broken down signs and degrading screen surfaces be a reminder to us all that nothing is forever. And that better things will always come. Catch ya on the flip side… That is, if I feel like looking for you.

Internet of Things and Connected Lives: An Insecure Relationship

Internet of Things and Connected Lives: An Insecure Relationship

Internet of Things

We live in a crazy connected world these days, and the Internet of Things makes it abundantly clear. IoT is probably one of the hottest emerging technology trends right now. Put simply, the Internet of Things is the technology of putting internet connected computer devices into everyday objects. Anything from refrigerators to light bulbs are now being produced with the ability to connect to a network and be controlled remotely.

As far as technology trends go, sales revenue and market value can rise and fall like the tides. This leaves it as no surprised that so many tech manufacturers are trying their best to come up with the next big Internet of Things device. The tech sector expands by leaps every year, so staying on top is a monumental, never ending task. However, as great as being able to control everything (I mean everything) from your phone sounds, there is great security risks involved.

Internet of Things Security in the News

The largest security threat in IoT news recently was the massive DDoS attack on Dyn, a company that provides DNS services to, well, half the country. The targeted devices used in the attack: IP security cameras. There has been the recent disclosure of CIA tools that turned internet of things devices such as smart TVs to spy on American homes. And you can’t say you haven’t seen the stories of baby monitors being hacked and used to listen in and even talk to whoever happens to be in the room.

In an article from Linux Insider, the growth of Linux based malware is discussed. With much of the IoT world in the hands of Linux based controllers, attackers have started focusing their efforts on Linux exploitation. And in a wonderful article on Fast Company, we hear the concerns of Vint Cerf, commonly known as the “Father of the Internet”. Perhaps one of the more subtle, but telling quotes from the article, Vint expresses

“Basically you’re relying on software doing the right things, and if it doesn’t do the right thing, you have very little to say about it. I feel like we’re moving into a kind of fragile future right now that we should be much more thoughtful about improving, that is to say making more robust.”

Internet of Things and the Common Consumer

As technology abounds and our world gets more connected, the common consumer has become more tech savvy than in years past. However, I find that tech savvy and and tech minded tend to be two different things. Basic understanding of your technology makes you tech savvy. A more definitive understanding makes you tech minded.

One thing a lot of common consumers do not realize about IoT devices, is the inherit security risk you bring into your home. In a most basic explanation, every device that ends up connected to your home router is a security risk. This means anything from computers, to cell phones, to connected devices like security cameras, TVs, and other appliances. With each new device introduced, the risk of attack goes up.

Unfortunately, even the most basic of security practices that help protect a home network are not in use by most common consumers. So when they decide to add even more attack points to the home network, it comes as no surprise that IoT products have started to become a favorite target. Your smart home is quickly becoming the smartest botnet in the world, and you don’t even know it. What stops an attacker from using your own appliance against you?

Internet of Things and Health Technology

This is a really scary talking point. Not only have we invited inter-connectivity into our normal home lives, but we have also invited it into our health decisions. Modern hospitals, and medical practices with recent equipment upgrades now have connected devices. IV pumps, insulin pumps, oxygen apparatus, the list goes on. Everything in the medical community is being connected.

This isn’t the scary part though. Being able to better monitor a hospital ward with a centralized computer system that shows such detail, that’s a great thing. The scary part is that, just like home devices, these new bits of medical genius come with their security flaws. Whether it’s outsider control of the device, to using the network node to get in and steal personal information, the security of such things hasn’t been well thought out with the technology.

The Future of IoT Security

Internet of Things Security

The future of IoT security has to start in the present. It starts with manufacturers being able to quickly resolve current issues and patch vulnerabilities. A quick response is a great way to assure your consumers that you take their security seriously. On the other side of that, security must be part of the end product that is released. Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing IT fronts, yet too many companies still don’t take it seriously. Manufacturers must take security not just of the present, but of the future seriously when planning and building new products.

For the common consumer, the practices of basic network security should be learned and applied a lot more than they are right now. If you didn’t know that your router can get software upgrades, raise your hand? If you raised your hand, then you have a lot of learning to do. Just like our phones and computers, internet connected devices can and probably will receive updates. The biggest reason for these updates? You guessed it, improving security.

Final Thoughts

Internet of Things is no doubt the future technology that will run our everyday lives. It’s almost the next inevitable step. However, like other technological leaps in the past, IoT doesn’t come without its flaws and concerns. Manufacturers and consumers have to work together to preserve security. Manufacturers have to do their jobs in preventing and maintaining the security of the devices they release. Consumers have to do their part to implement the security basics on these devices and their home network in general.

A connected world with connected lives will not be this terrible thing that the older generations think it will be. It will not be a disillusioned dystopia of tech zombies with no interaction. However, without the proper procedures and practices, we can’t hope to totally eliminate the slight possibility.

 

Apples to Androids Part Two: Application Compatibility

Apples to Androids Part Two: Application Compatibility

App Store

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.

 

People ask me all the time about making the switch from iOS to Android. Being an Android enthusiast, I guess my knowledge of the OS and development makes me an easy go-to for others wanting to learn more. Perhaps the biggest thing I get asked about is application compatibility. Will my apps be available on Android, and if not, are there comparable alternatives?

App History By the Numbers

Apple was not the first company to have an app store. Both Microsoft and Palm were already there. But it didn’t take long for Apple to outpace the competition to become the most used app store with 100 million downloads in its first 3 months. Android would be introduced the following year in 2008 and it would take six years before the PlayStore would carry more apps than the Apple AppStore. Growth for both app shops have been steady over the last few years and Android maintains its lead as it has become the most popular mobile platform.

App Store Comparison
Image via AppFigures

Developer’s Take

Though Android remains the most popular mobile platform to date, you will still see a lot of apps come out for iOS long before they are available for Android. This isn’t some conspiracy or an attempt by Apple to pay developers to develop for them first. iOS is actually easier to develop for, and success of an app, especially in the terms of revenue generation, can often hinge on how well it does in the App Store.

iPhone is generally seen as more of an attractive accent to someone’s life than an Android phone. Users on iOS are more likely to pay for apps than those on Android. A lot of this is due to the open source nature of Android, users with root access, and the easy ability to side-load applications. Either way, if you want to make a name as a developer, you judge your success on iOS sales, and therein lies a major focus.

Major Production Apps

In this part of the post I want to discuss compatibility between iOS and Android with a focus on major production apps. What do I mean by that? We’re talking your big name, everyone has them on their smartphone applications. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. I’m also going to include most of the major productivity apps like Gmail, Outlook, Evernote, and If (formerly IFTTT). When it comes to the bulk of your mainly used applications, you are going to find them in both application stores.

Proprietary Applications

ios 11
Image Courtesy of Apple

This is where things get a little… Well, a LOT different. Proprietary software, in this case apps that are owned by the respective manufacturers of a mobile device, are things that you won’t find cross-platform. Apple is well known for its features that include its proprietary iOS software. Apps such as iMessage and Facetime have become absolutely second nature to iPhone users. And what makes these kind of apps better, for Apple anyway, is that they are available across devices like iPhone, iPad, and iPod.

Android is a bit different. Most of Google’s major apps are also available on iOS. Where you end up with proprietary applications comes from the individual device manufacturers. Samsung, LG, HTC, and others have their own apps that you will usually find pre-installed on your Android device. However, most of these apps are seen as annoying as opposed to beneficial.

Comparison and Contrast

Now, at this point in the post I figured it would be good to use a visual of some kind. Below I have constructed a table. In this table you will find apps you probably use on iOS, their availability on the Android platform, and if there is no availability, the apps that have the closest comparison to them.

App NameAndroid AvailabilityAndroid Alternative
Facebook/MessengerYes
InstagramYes
iMessageNoGoogle Allo
WhatsApp
FacetimeNoViber
Google Duo
iTunesNo (Note: Music can be moved from computer iTunes to Android device)Google Play Music
Spotify
SnapchatYes
SiriNoGoogle Now (Assistant)
Cortana for Android
Find My iPhoneNoAndroid Device Manager
Apple MapsNoGoogle Maps
Apple NewsNoFlipboard
TwitterYes
EmailNot the stock iOS AppOutlook
Gmail
Alto
NotesNot the stock iOS AppGoogle Keep
Evernote
iMovieNoVidTrim

I can add more apps to this list as they are pointed out, but this gives you a basic look at some of the most used apps on iOS, and whether or not they are available on Android, and the alternative to them.

That’s it. That’s your quick look at app compatibility between iOS and Android. Hopefully this gives you a bit of a glimpse into what you will be looking at when making the switch from iOS to Android.

 

 

Bash Commands All Linux Users Should Know

Bash Commands All Linux Users Should Know

Bash Commands

There is an unspoken rule when it comes to learning how to use Linux that you are not a true user until you learn the basics of bash commands. While there are some great GUI applications that can help you work in Linux, bash commands are essential. They can be everything when nothing else works. Over the last few years, my knowledge of Linux has expanded as I tend to run a dual-boot environment on my computers. I’ve used Linux for everything from gaming, to Android development, to penetration testing.

Over numerous years and numerous Linux distributions, I have come to learn the importance of bash commands. Across distributions and versions, it is the one constant. Whether you use Linux at home, or are looking into work that requires knowledge of Linux command line, here are some of the top bash commands every Linux user should know. Of course, the command line doesn’t have to be all business all the time. Check out my other Linux command line post to see some fun things you can do in the terminal.

Basic Bash Commands

sudoRuns commands as root. This means no limitations of permissions. Can only be used when an account has been configured for root access, such as an administrator.

cdChanges the current working directory.

lsLists the contents of a specific directory. If no directory is specified it lists the contents of the current working directory.

killTerminates the process specified in the arguments. Think of it as the “End Task” for Linux.

nanoOpens files in a very basic command terminal text editor.

nano bash text editor
Example of the Nano bash text editor.

System Information Bash Commands

psDisplays information about all of the processes currently running on the machine.

dfDisplays disk usage for the filesystem.

hostnameDisplays the name of the current host system.

uptimeShows how long the system has been running since the last reboot.

systeminfo-bash-commands
Various System Information Bash Commands

Networking Bash Commands

ifconfigDisplays information about network interfaces, their state, IP address, packet count, and more.

tracerouteAttempts to provide information about the routers your connection crosses when reaching a remote machine.

netstatGives information about ongoing connections on the local system and what ports are listening.

curl ifconfig.meShows the machines external IP address. Like using WhatIsMyIp in the terminal.

netstat-bash-command
Example output from netstat bash command.

File Manipulation Bash Commands

chmod or chownAllows for changing file permissions and owners.

grepSearches through specified file location for files that contain a specified string in the arguments.

mkdirCreates a new directory or rmdir removes a directory.

cpCopies files or directories to a new location or mv moves files to a different directory.

touchCreates a new file in the current working directory.

ddConvert and copy a file.

grep-bash-command
Grep bash command arguments and parameters.

Miscellaneous Bash Commands

manGiving another bash command as an argument, man (short for manual) gives more details about the command you are trying to use.

clearClears the terminal and resets the prompt to the top line. Very useful when the terminal screen becomes clogged.

mount / unmountUsed to mount filesystems. Particularly useful for SD Cards, USB drives, and external optical and storage drives.

passwdAs you might have guessed, this command allows you to change your user password.

historyLists previous bash commands for the current shell session.

man-bash-command
Man bash command showing options for “touch” command.

 

There you have it. The most basic bash commands that every Linux user should know. What do you think should be added to the list? What are your highest used bash commands? Let me know in the comments below!

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

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?

Summary

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

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.

Wrap-Up

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

Dance

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!