FRED and Notion and more!

Est. Reading Time: 5 minutes

I haven’t written in a bit, not for lack of topics, but for lack of motivation. Maybe the tools I mention in this post will help me get past the lack of motivation issue. I’m talking about FRED, a writing tool, and Notion, a super-duper note-taking (and other stuff) app that I considered using as a replacement for Evernote when I was attempting to migrate off of the mean, green, highly addictive platform. Oh, yeah, I have a couple of comments about my shiny new Rocketbook and Concrete5, too.

First, there is FRED, which stands for “Folder for Reaching the End of your Draft”. This is a nifty tool I learned about from Shaunta Grimes at Ninja Writers. She has a 15 minute YouTube video about what it is, and how to use it effectively. The concept and execution are so simple even I can do it. FRED lets you keep a log of your progress, stay motivated as you see word counts and continuous daily streaks rise, and make any notes that might pop into your head as you record your accomplishments. I won’t steal any thunder from Shaunta, go check out the video, and also consider taking a look at Ninja Writers, if, like me, you are attempting to write your own great novel.

With the concept of FRED in my head, I turned to Notion, as I am not great about actually writing things down on paper. First, my handwriting is the worst (more on that later). There’s no guarantee that I can even read something I wrote more than a few days after writing it, much less have anyone else interpret it. Second, I tend to not like having to carry stuff around (like journals), so a computer is a better venue for me to journal on. I did pretty well journaling during my 21 day fast back in January, so I know I can do it. I also know that I can customize a Notion database to record my journaling, allowing me to keep track of things like daily writing streaks and word counts.

So, off I went to create my own custom Notion template for FRED. I copied over some elements from one of the default templates in Notion, tweaked the requested information a bit, adding a spot to put in word count, a checkbox to say that I met my “tiny little goal”, which is a FRED concept, and a place to record what type of writing I did. This noted where my words were written, whether into a blog post, or into a current work-in-progress, or something else, like a critique at Scribophile, one of my favorite writing community web sites. I’ll have to write a post about Scribophile sometime. I think I have done one in the past, but if I did, I’m afraid it disappeared into the digital ether at some point.

Anyway, I was humming along creating this new template when my brain imploded. I couldn’t remember how to make certain aspects of the default page “stick” for later use. After checking the excellent documentation a couple of times and not finding an answer, I pounded away at the problem for a few minutes until I figured it out. Painful, but now I have an easy way to hopefully motivate myself to write every day. This is where the “tiny little goal” comes in. The idea is to pick a small goal, whether it is “write for ten minutes”, “write 500 words”, or some variation on those themes and make that my baseline goal for every day. If I meet the tiny little goal, I get to check the box on the journal entry that says “Goal Met”. The more days I can check that box, the closer I will get to either finishing my work-in-progress or throwing out a giant pile of blog posts. At least, that is the concept behind FRED. Some people who use FRED like to put a sticker on each day they reach their goal. A checked “Goal Met” box is as good as a shiny gold star sticker on a calendar for me.

I did get my Rocketbook in. I’ve used it a bit and I am amazed at the fact that it can OCR my handwriting fairly accurately. Not 100%, but 95+%, which is amazing. Even with the tiny dots on the Rocketbook page creating horizontal and vertical lines, I still can’t write in a straight line, so the fact that it read my wandering script just amazes me. When I finish writing my notes on the page, I use the Rocketbook app on my phone to scan the page and send the image and an OCR’d transcript to one of several cloud storage services. My primary one is Evernote, of course, but I also have the option of simply emailing it, or sending it to Box, Google Drive, OneDrive, or OneNote. I still have one more app I can select as a destination, but I’m leaving that open for now as there are no other supported cloud services that I use. So, yay! Rocketbook is cool.

Finally, some words about Concrete5, or, as it is soon to be renamed, ConcreteCMS. ConcreteCMS is, for those not familiar with it, a full-blown content management system designed to facilitate the creation and curation of websites. While not as popular as WordPress, it is a major player in content management. If you can envision WordPress as a precision scalpel, think of ConcreteCMS as a Swiss Army knife. It can do blogs, just like WordPress, but it can also build incredible websites that are more than a collection of blog posts with an associated image gallery. Not to say WordPress can’t be used to build great sites, but it doesn’t do as much “out of the box” as ConcreteCMS does. You have to add plug-ins to provide this additional functionality or write the code yourself, which defeats the whole purpose of a CMS or blog posting system like WordPress. Also, adding plug-ins to WordPress is the most effective way to make it insecure.

With ConcreteCMS, a huge array of functionality is available right after installation, no plug-ins needed. All types of websites, from service portfolios to small and large business sites can all be created in an easy to use, fairly intuitive system, complete with user management, revision control, page and site security, and a number of other essential and useful capabilities. You can jump on the Concrete site, as I mentioned in a previous post and they will let you run a demo site for 14 days, on their hosted service. You’ll have full control to modify pages, add users, and play with the entire system before deciding to either continue to let them host it, for a cost, or install it on your own hardware or hosting service. That’s a pretty cool and effective sales tool, because as easy as the ConcreteCMS is to use, once you put a few hours into creating the site of your dreams, who wants to toss all that out and start over?

I did install Concrete5, as it is known right now, on my shared hosting site using the Softaculous installer. It sits in my hosting account along with my WordPress site and my FileRun site. I’ll write a post on my FileRun setup sometime soon. It is pretty cool. I have a website started to feature my works-in-progress and hopefully, someday, feature my published novels. I am building a template for the “project” pages now so they will look similar once they are published publicly. Right now, the site is just not visible to anyone except me. I prefer that to one of those silly “Under Construction” pages that used to litter the Internet. As soon as it is tolerably presentable, I will post a link here on this site.

That’s it. While pretty much all of this was about tech, it was also kind of random, so it will get my favorite category attached to it – “Random Thoughts“. I’ll write more soon, as I now have FRED to keep me on my toes. What will be my tiny little goal? I have no idea, but I’ll let you know when I do.

Featured Image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Gadgets and Distractions

Est. Reading Time: 4 minutes

I wrote my post-fast wrap-up a couple of days ago. Since then I have been dipping my toe into news of the horrid pile of feces our political system has become under the new administration. The Harris-Biden Biden-Harris administration is well on their way to raising prices for gas, erasing the gains made by the previous administration is many areas, and, to top the irony cake with some extra ironic frosting, doing the very things that the previous administration wanted to do AND taking credit for it as their own idea. As I said in my previous post…life continues.

Continue reading “Gadgets and Distractions”

The KINDLY Method of Appraising Email

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutesI wanted to discuss a topic that everyone deals with at some point – email.

Specifically, how do I figure out if an email is valid? Have I really won millions of dollars from a  lottery in another country? Does the president of my company really need me to send a purchase order for thousands of dollars right now? Does a foreign diplomat really need my help transferring millions of dollars into my country? Emails that use these approaches seem outlandish and easy to spot as fake, but a surprising number of people fall for these tactics every day.

Fake emails, also known as spam (but this is actually a different kind of email, with a different goal), phishing, spear-phishing, social engineering and other colorful names are sent by the millions every day to people all over the world. Many are far more subtle than the ones listed above. How do you tell what is real and what is fake?

There are all kinds of red flags that I can talk about, and methods of determining the validity of emails have been floated by information security bloggers and writers for years, but I offer this method as a quick reality check. I call it the KINDLY method. It is geared mostly to English speaking recipients, as much of the logic used is based on American spelling, speaking, and writing constructs, but it can be used by non-English speakers as well. Here it is:

K – If the word “kindly” is used in the asking portion of the email, as in “to secure your account, kindly log in with your username and password”, this is the first red flag. No English speaking person routinely uses “kindly” in this fashion in either writing or speech. This same idea holds true for other words and phrases that seem idiosyncratic and out of place, regardless of the language used.

I – Incorrect grammar and spelling. If the emails contains poor grammar or incorrect spelling, especially if purports to be “official correspondence”, it is most likely spam. This is, believe it or not, intentional, and intended to weed out the security aware from the suckers. Regardless of this, it is a major red flag.

N – No association. If an email comes from a company you do not do business with, such as a bank at which you have no account, it is most likely either general spam or an attempt to steal your credentials. If you haven’t ordered a package, don’t click on the link in an email claiming it is from UPS and has your shipping information attached. More than likely, that attachment is full of malware that will install onto your computer and cause mayhem.

D – Desperate timing. Evil emailers all want to create a sense of urgency. If they can rush you into a decision to click on a link or open an attachment, they have succeeded. Our logic breaks down sometimes when presented with urgent, time sensitive issues, even if those issues are fake. If the email states the matter is urgent, or payments are due today, or they have tried multiple times to reach you, more than likely the email is fake.

L – Links/Lottery. The letter L pulls double duty in this process.

  • First, it stands for links. If an email has a link in it, you can almost always hover over the link (don’t click!) and see where it goes. If the email claims to be from Amazon, but the link goes to somewhere other than “”, for example “’, a domain I just made up, but one that has some characteristics that should be pointed out. See how the “o” in the domain is actually a zero? Also, see that the domain seems to contain “”, but doesn’t end at “.com”, but actually ends in “.ru”. Spammers, malware spreaders, and phishers all use tactics like this to make links appear to be valid upon first glance.
  • Second, L stands for lottery. The plain fact of the matter is that NO ONE wins a lottery they never entered and you generally can’t be randomly entered into a lottery. Those millions of dollars you (supposedly) won in some lottery in another country are not real, I guarantee it.

Y – Yelling. Common Internet standards suggest that using all capital letters in an email, text, or post of any kind constitutes yelling. If you receive an email that uses all capital letters, especially when referencing large sums of money that you either won, or are available to you, you can rest assured it is fake.

So that’s it. The KINDLY method of appraising the validity of an email.

A NaNoWriMo Update and Other Thoughts

Est. Reading Time: 3 minutesWe’re closing in on halfway through NanoWriMo and my word count is over the 22K mark. I’m a touch ahead of the minimum word count, so that’s OK for now, but I need to get far more ahead, because Thanksgiving is coming…

I found an interesting technology tidbit today. I’m fairly certain that I’ve never mentioned I am a Type I diabetic, at least not in anything published on this site-maybe on a previous site. I’ve been diabetic since I was thirteen years old, so that is creeping up on thirty-five years living with an incurable, but treatable disease.

As with most incurable diseases, especially ones that affect millions of people, there is a sizable support community on the Internet. There are multiple foundations working hard to find a cure, but they are all hampered by the need for any commercial solutions to be approved by the FDA or other regulatory bodies before they are available to the public.

Well, open source technology is trying to make an end-run on this bottleneck. It is succeeding to some degree. Before I dive into how, let me explain the mechanics behind diabetes, particularly Type I diabetes. To simplify this explanation, I will take some shortcuts that medical professionals might feel are inaccurate, but I’m not writing a dissertation, just trying to explain what is broken.

In Type I diabetes, the pancreas, which is responsible for producing insulin (among other things) stops working. This is the root cause of the problem. Without insulin, the body’s cells cannot process sugar, or more accurately, glucose. Levels of glucose build up in the blood, causing a condition called hyperglycemia, or elevated blood sugar. The short-term effects are intense thirst, excessive urination, lethargy, and a craving for sweets or food in general. The long-term effects are damaged organs and bodily systems from dealing with the excessive amount of glucose in the blood.

When a pancreas functions normally, it can react to higher levels of glucose in the blood and produce more insulin to allow the body’s cells to process the glucose. In diabetics, this doesn’t happen. Unless the body gets insulin, a person will eventually slip into a coma and die. There have been dozens of attempts to replace a damaged pancreas – transplants, insulet cell (the part of the pancreas that produces insulin) implantation, and other weirder methods have been tried, all in an attempt to bring the glucose cycle back to normal – a person takes in carbohydrates, the digestive system breaks them down and the pancreas produces insulin to process the resulting glucose.

Insulin therapy, whether shots or pumps, has always been complicated to balance because to properly dose insulin you must know your blood glucose (bg) level. This requires, for most diabetics, pricking their finger and using a test strip and an electronic meter to determine their blood glucose level. They then can use a formula to determine how much insulin to take. Unfortunately, taking insulin after eating, when bg levels are high, has been determined to be less effective at preventing long-term complications of diabetes, which are many, some of which are more dangerous than the disease itself.

It was discovered that the better way to treat with insulin is to determine how much insulin to take prior to eating, to keep bg levels from rising too high. This requires knowing how many carbohydrates are in your current meal, and also knowing how much insulin it takes for your body to process that amount of carbohydrates, which varies from person to person.

The ideal system would eliminate the finger sticking and insulin calculations and coordinate information from a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and feed that directly into a insulin pump, so that the pump can automatically determine how much insulin to deliver. This would essentially create an artificial pancreas. That’s exactly what two open source projects are doing now. Check out the main website for these amazing projects. They do a much better job than I would in explaining what they are doing.

Here is the Looping website and here is the OpenAPS site, both of which are making strides toward creating an artificial pancreas system. Pretty exciting stuff.

I’ll check back in once I top 30,000 words.