Category Archives: How-to

The problem with akismet

When it comes to fighting comment spam, akismet is the default, goto option… the problem is that, as I learned the hard way a few days ago when my host took my site off line for using up too many resources, it is an option that has a pretty major downside. Still, let’s focus on what akismet gets right first: it is extremely effective when it comes to identifying spam, quarantining it, and keeping it from showing up in your blog, that is most definitely a good thing. The problem is that this approach allows those comments to be added to your database before blocking them and keeping them from showing, and that means that it does nothing to keep spambots from using most of your bandwidth. In other words, what you need is something that can keep those comments from being posted in the first place, and that is where adding some sort of CAPTCHA can help you and/or an automated system that can tell bots from real users is bound to come in handy.

Now, I’m not saying that akismet is a bad idea, in fact I find it downright invaluable and it is definitely not going anywhere, but chances are that you’ll be better off making it your last resort for the odd spam comment that manages to get through, rather than your first line of defense.

And a word of caution, if you have a major spam problem already it may take a while to get the spam-bots off your case, as chances are that your site is already in their databases, and that means that they are going to keep on trying (if this remains a problem you may want to give blocking them via the .htaccess file a shot.. you can find the information on how to do that here, but the process is not for the faint of heart).

Okay, that’s it for now. Hopefully I will soon be able to go back to focusing on the things I actually care for, and I’ll finally be able to put spam and spam-bots off my mind.

How to put an end to a stubborn cough

As you may remember, I’ve been pretty sick these past couple of weeks, and even though I’m doing better, I’m still not at a 100%. Anyway, a few days ago I had a coughing fit that had me basically puking all over myself (someone was burning leaves, and seeing how there’s no escaping the air you breathe, well, let’s just say that it got pretty scary). Needless to say that that was not an experience I wanted to repeat. In fact it was so bad that it had me googling the subject to see if a) I had to get myself to a doctor ASAP, and b) what I could do to avoid a repeat performance… especially the latter.

What I found when it came to the first one was that the cough sometimes sticks around for as long as eight weeks after the infection itself has cleared out, and that if the cough was the only problem I was dealing with, then going to the doctor was probably not the brightest of  ideas (something about the fact that a doctor’s office is  not a place you want to be in when your system is already somewhat compromised because it is a place where the bugs of all the different patients get to meet and greet). Okay, that made sense, and at least I knew that chances were that the problem wasn’t all that serious, that was definitely good news. Unfortunately when it came to the second one of my questions the answer was less than encouraging: the cough was likely to be a persistent one and it was unlikely to respond to treatment, thanks for playing. Needless to say that I was not what I wanted to hear. Still, I figured that maybe this was one instance in which maybe I could try a few home remedies combined with a bit of common sense. Continue reading How to put an end to a stubborn cough

Looking for… a way to make walls look a little less dull

Okay, this is going to sound like a crazy request, but here it goes: I live in a house, it’s a nice and perfectly respectable house as far as houses go, and like all self respecting houses it has walls… way too many walls. The problem is that, even though as a writer I spend way too much time indoors,  I am not too fond of walls to begin with, so can anyone think of a cheap (think flat out broke), easy (and preferably upcycling/recycling/whatever) DIY project that could possibly get a wall to look a little less like a wall?

Yes, I know, I should just paint them every five years or so and forget about it, but I figured I might just as well ask if someone had a better idea. Bonus points for mold resistance (as I have mentioned more than once, I live pretty close to a river, the house gets flooded on a regular basis,  and humidity  usually ranges between 70 and 100%… though sometimes it feels like it’s even higher than that) and for an idea that can accommodate some artwork.

Hammock hack: tangle-free arms

Mayan hammocks are among the most beautiful and comfortable ones out there, but if you take them down on a daily basis chances are that sooner rather than later you will find yourself dealing with a tangled arm. With over a hundred threads per side trying to straighten things out isn’t always easy (especially if you don’t tackle the problem right away and allow things to get completely out of hand). A better choice is to keep your arms from getting tangled in the first place.

An easy way to prevent this from happening is to take a pair of long shoelaces, secure the middle of one of these to one the rings, criss-cross them as you wrap it tightly down the arm, and then tie the ends together. Repeat the process with the second shoelace on the other end of your hammock. That’s it. Now all you have to do is push that shoelace up when your hammock goes up, and pull it down when you take it down. This is not the prettiest of solutions, but it works and requires no particular skill.

If you  are worried about the aesthetic aspect of things, and you (or someone you know) can crochet,  then making a fancier version of this thing is pretty straight forward (believe me, crocheting is not my thing, and I couldn’t write a description of how I did it even if I tried, but it took me less than an hour make one of these arm-guards).

The shoelace version (okay, so I used a bit of sting), the crochet version pulled down and the crochet version pushed up side by side
The shoelace version (okay, so I used a bit of sting), the crochet version pulled down and the crochet version pushed up side by side
Close-up of the crochet arm-guard before installing.

For quick access to my tips and tricks to make your hammock life easier click here.

Work in style, turn your hammock into a workstation!

Let’s face it: hammocks are great to read and to sleep in, but trying to juggle a laptop in a hammock is a tricky –to say nothing of a dangerous– proposition… and hammocks are not too friendly when it comes to tablet stands either. Anyway, lately I’ve been trying to figure out a way to work around this problem, and this is what I came up with:

What you’ll need:

  • 1 or 3 hooks (carabiners, snap hooks, lobster claws or something like that. Carabiners are the most widely available in relatively large sizes, but the others have the advantage of a swivel mechanism that can come in handy). The number depends on how your hammock is set up. If it hangs from an open hook, you’ll only need one, if it is tied to a tree/column, or if it attaches to some sort of closed ring, you will need three of them.
  • Rope (once more the exact amount depends on your hammock’s setup, so I can’t give you an exact figure). I’d recommend a thick, heavy duty one that is a little longer than the distance separating your attachment points, and five or six times the vertical distance from your attachment points to the middle of your hammock of a lighter one.
  • 2 sturdy trays/baskets, no more than 2 in./5cm. deep, of a material that allows for a measure of airflow,  and big enough to hold the computer (and remember that the airflow thing cannot be over-emphasized, as without it you run the risk of frying your computer). These two trays may or may not be identical.
  • 2 wedge-shaped door stops (these are optional).
  • Some means to secure your laptop in place, just to be on the safe side.

What to do: Continue reading Work in style, turn your hammock into a workstation!

Reinventing the poncho

As I have mentioned a couple of times I love sleeping in a hammock, but I’m not crazy about how cold they can get. After a lot of experimenting, and borrowing the basic principle from a sort of poncho my mom used to have, I came up with the following solution:

Hammock blanket
A very simple idea for a blanket that is meant to be used on a hammock but can just as easily be used to curl up on the couch.

Once you have made those cuts (and allowed the paint to dry)  all you have to do is slip your arms through the two openings and allow the top to fall back over your shoulders. This blanket moves with you, it leaves your arms free if you want to hold a book or a cup of coffee, it offers a double layer of protection where you need it the most (on your back and chest), it doesn’t wrap around your neck no matter what you do, and you can pile two (or more) of them and then wear them as one if you have to… not to mention that it gives you the ability of taking your bed’s/hammock’s warmth with you when you get up. Oh, and if you want to use it just to veg out on the couch you can always wear it upside down, so that it is a little shorter and doesn’t drag on the floor when you get up.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out of my chest, back to our regular programming.

Update: In case anyone is interested I have posted another hammock-related how-to, this one featuring the instructions to create a hammock for your laptop so that you can work in comfort (or watch a movie) without having to resort to some sort of superhuman balancing act. You can find that one here.

For a quick access to my tips on how to make your hammock-life easier click here.

Hammocks in the fall

One of the greatest joys of the summer is being able to curl up in a hammock with a good book. On the other hand, as most of us who enjoy hammocks year round can attest, a hammock in a cold day can get very cold very fast. Now, my hammock is indoors, so extreme weather is not an issue, but still my choices are to crank up the thermostat –something I try to avoid due to the whole carbon footprint thing– or to figure out a way to make my hammock a little more winter-friendly… an important concern, seeing how said hammock also doubles as my bed.

Now, first of all, let’s rule out what doesn’t work: sleeping bags. Yes, at first glance these would seem like the most logical solution and they are wonderful for sleeping on the ground, but they work by trapping a layer of air between your body and the outside world, and then using your own body heat to warm it. If you are on a hammock, however, your own weight is effectively squeezing the air out of the bottom part of that protective cocoon, and your sides and backside become an incredibly effective heat sink… not a pleasant experience by any stretch of the imagination (and keep in mind that while this is particularly true of sleeping bags, it applies to a lesser degree to other kinds of clothing).

Continue reading Hammocks in the fall

Collar of no shame, a how-to

my dog wondering what she did to deserve this.

And here we have another pointless personal post… or maybe this one won’t be quite so pointless.

Yesterday I had to take my dog to the vet. She had an allergic reaction to something and she was scratching so much she was sent home with several drugs and an e-collar (aka a ‘collar of shame’). The thing reminded me of a medieval torture device, my dog was miserable, I was miserable and it took me about twenty minutes to decide that the thing just wasn’t working, so I set out to find an alternative.

I found some very fancy products online, but none of them came across as particularly appealing and they were not available from my local vet. Seeing how I needed them now, not in 48 hours, they were most definitely not an option. That meant I had to come up with an alternative by myself… and I had to use materials that were readily available.

Here you have a picture of what I came up with, and I have to say that she is much happier. She can see where she is going, she can eat and drink, she can rest comfortably and she is not bumping into things or falling down the stairs. Continue reading Collar of no shame, a how-to