Kev Quirk, Author at Kev Quirk

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Author: Kev Quirk

Hi, I'm Kev and I'm a cyber security professional from England. I use this site to share my thoughts and ideas from time to time.

My Thoughts On Pop OS 20.04 After One Month

A little over a month ago, I installed Pop OS 20.04 on both my laptop and my desktop, so I thought I’d write a post on how I’ve found it so far.

I’ve been using Linux for around 10 years now; most of that has been Ubuntu based distributions, but I also spent a couple of years on Fedora too. In recent years I’ve flipped from being a distro hopper to preferring stable systems that I know intimately well.

My desktop, for example, has gone from running Pop OS 18.04, right the way through to the current 20.04 release. Because Pop follows the Ubuntu 6 month release cycle, that’s 4 major OS upgrades.

Throughout that time, I haven’t had a single issue with Pop OS, which I think is a testament to the stability of modern Linux distributions.

Anyway, on with my thoughts…

Tiling Windows

The new hotness with Pop OS 20.04 is the embedded tiling window manager. At first, I had a lot of fun using the TWM, but to be honest, after a week or so the novelty wore off and I reverted to alt+tab through my open windows.

Pop Tiling Windows

If you’re into TWMs then Pop’s implementation is incredibly easy to use – just toggle the switch in the system tray and the OS does the rest.

What I have found though, is that some windows go a bit wonky when automatically resizing. They either overlap one another, or leave gaps as shown between my terminal and file browser in the image above.

Coinsidering this is only an intial release of Pop’s tiling window manager, I’d say that’s a pretty minor issue that I’m sure will be fixed in future updates.

Pop Shop

Pop doesn’t use the Ubuntu repositories. Instead they use their own which, from what I can see at least, appear to be a little more bleeding edge than the Ubuntu repos.

There’s no snap support out of the box with Pop, but it’s trivial to add. What they have instead is Flatpak support. Personally, I’ve never really bothered with Flatpaks because they’re just so huge.

For example, the Telegram desktop app as a Flatpak is 783MB, whereas the DEB is just 21MB. That’s a massive difference!

I understand that this is because Flatpaks basically come with an entire Linux filesystem embedded, but I still feel like it’s overkill for my needs.

As I understand it, the Pop OS team have teamed up with the guys over at Elementary OS and are both using the same front end for their package management.

I prefer Pop Shop to Ubuntu’s Software Centre, but I’m not sure why. To just feels more slick and better put together. Overall, I prefer the user experience on the Pop Shop.

Look & Feel

I had Ubuntu 20.04 of my laptop for a little while, just to try it out really. It was nice, performant and it looked good, especially with the new Yaru theme. But to be honest, compared to Pop OS, I think Ubuntu looks pretty dated.

Many Linux users don’t really care about the aesthetics of their desktop; preferring usability over looks. I get that, but a consistent and high quality UI/UX is very important to me. I spend a lot of time at my computers, so I want them to look as good as they function.

I have to say, Pop delivers on that front. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying Ubuntu is bad. Far from it actually – it’s a fantastic OS. All I’m saying is that I prefer Pop experience.

Performance

I haven’t had any significant issues with Pop on either my laptop or my desktop. I do get the occasional locked application, but Gnome seems to handle them a lot better than it used to. No more bombing out the entire session and starting again, which is nice.

I’m writing this post on my laptop, which is a 2nd generation Thinkpad X1 Carbon. I have a terminal, system monitor, the files app and Firefox with 5 tabs open.

I also have Synology Drive, PIA VPN and Keybase running in the system tray.

I’m currently using around 50% of my RAM (4GB) and 15% of my CPU. So there’s plenty of power in reserve if I need to do anything more taxing on my laptop.

Honestly though, I don’t do much more than writing code, writing posts and playing the occasional games on here, like 0 A.D. and Minecraft – both of which Pop handles perfectly well.

Closing Thoughts

I’ve been using Pop OS for a couple years now, and I’m still very happy with it. System 76 continue to add features and improvements to Pop OS that are really making it stand out from the crowd.

Personally, I can’t see myself removing Pop from my devices any time soon – I’m super happy with this distro.

If you’re a user of Pop OS too, you can sign up to support them by donating $12/year. I’ve signed up. They have a link on their website.

Finally, yes, I know it’s actually written Pop!_OS, but all those exclamations and underscores would have been annoying to type out through this post. 🙂

This post is day 24 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

Website Redesign

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on a full redesign of this website. I’ve asked my subscribers and reader to provide some feedback on my website.

The feedback has been really useful in helping me focus on what I need to improve, but also what works with the current design.

With that in mind, I’m getting pretty close to giving you guys a sneak preview. Over the next 24 hours or so, I’ll be putting out a newsletter update with a link to my draft site so you can have a look around. I’ll also be providing a screenshot of a potential new colour scheme.

If you want to have the opportunity to poke around my new website design and provide any feedback before anyone else, you can use the form below to subscribe to my newsletter.

As with everything on this site, my newsletter respects your privacy. You can find out more here.

Awesome Blog Club

I just came across the Awesome Blog Club on Lobsters. It’s basically a directory of personal blogs that are arranged by tags. I really like the I’m Feeling Lucky button that takes you to a random blog from their directory.

However, what I don’t like is that Git is a huge barrier for entry here. In order to add your blog to the site, you need to fork the repo, carry out a pull request, then email the maintainer. This isn’t a huge problem for me now that I know how to use Git, but for anyone who isn’t a software developer (which is the vast majority of blog owners) this is a non-starter.

It’s a real shame.

Update

WizzWizz4 on Fosstodon just corrected me. The submission form on Awesome Blog Club contains 2 options not steps. So you can do the PR, or just email the maintainer.

I take back what I said. Being able to simply email the maintainer to get your blog submitted removes the Git barrier to entry completely.

Thanks for the correction, WizzWizz4!

My History With Blogging

Blogging takes tenacity, commitment and experience. I thought I’d write a post about my blogging history to show that none of us get it right at first.

If you read the about page on this website, it briefly mentions some of my blogging history, but I thought it would be good to write a more detailed post about it.

This post is also likely to give you a good laugh at how bad my design skillz were back in the day. So, enjoy…

It Started With A Jing

The very first blog post I published was on 02nd April 2011, which was a review of a Linux operating system. This first fore into blogging was hosted on Google’s free blogging platform, Blogger.

For some reason I had the bright idea to call that first blog Jingi Blog. I have no idea why I did this or what I was thinking. It’s a very silly name.

I recently discovered that Jingi Blog is still alive and kicking on Blogger. If you want to take a look and have a good laugh at my complete lack of both writing and design skills, here’s a link:

Visit Jingi Blog on Blogger

Jing Blog screenshot

THAT FONT! THOSE COLOURS! Ahhhhh, it’s horrible!

If you’re going to design a blog, don’t do it like this, folks. The orange and purple really work together on the menu, I think you will agree! 🙂

I stuck with Jingi Blog for a little over a year, then decided I needed more functionality that Blogger could offer. I went with a WordPress blog and took to opportunity to rebrand away from that awful name.

It’s a Refuge For All Geeks

I rebranded Jingi Blog to Refugeeks. Refugeeks had the tag-line “a refuge for all geeks”, so the name was a mixture between refugee and geek.

At the time, I thought it was really clever, but in hindsight, I’m not so sure. Having said that, the domain was easy to remember and share, so I definitely picked the right one.

Refugeeks version 1.0 was a self-hosted WordPress site. I bought the domain, then began hunting for the cheapest possible hosting I could find. This was another big mistake.

I distinctly remember a reader emailing me saying that my content was good, but my site took 16 seconds to load! According to research done by Neil Patel, 40% of people abandon a website that takes more than 3 seconds to load.

I was clearly losing lots of readers with my 16 second load time!

Refugeeks version 1
Refugeeks version 1

I was clearly very committed to that font and those beautiful orange and purple shades. I was all about the gradients back then too!

Joking aside, this is a step in the right direction from Jingi Blog. The text is easier to read and I’m starting to add better artwork, but things are still pretty bad.

Refugeeks Version 2

After feedback from my readers, and lots of research in how to speed up a website, I iterated on Refugeeks with a fresh new theme and a better quality host.

Refugeeks version 2
Refugeeks version 2

As you can see, the fonts have finally improved slightly, as did the general design, but the orange and purple persists. 🙁

At this point, I’m really starting to work on the branding of Refugeeks and the site is starting build up some traction. This is the point in which I started to think I could potentially be onto something with blogging.

You’re not going to believe this, folks – I finally decided to get rid of the orange and purple for…

Refugeeks Version 2.5

Refugeeks version 2.5
Refugeeks version 2.5

Same theme design, but a new colour pallet. Blue is my favourite colour, so I decided to go with blue and grey for the new Refugeeks design.

I originally went with orange and purple because they are the colours Ubuntu use, but I needed to make my own brand – not use the colours of another company.

Refugeeks was due to go through one final evolution before the end of my blogging history. I gave it another new theme that was more modern and allowed me to put more content on the home screen.

Refugeeks Version 3

Refugeeks version 3
Refugeeks version 3

After all those iterations of Jingi Blog and Refugeeks. After all those evenings spent researching how to improve my blog, I finally had something I was fairly happy with.

This was now April 2013. I had been blogging and learning for 2 years at this point, but I was only just starting to become satisfied with my blog. So don’t worry if you’re not happy with your blog’s design on day 1 – you can iterate and fix that over time.

From this point on, Refugeeks started to snowball. I was spending all my spare time learning about how to improve my blog and my writing. It was really paying dividends, but it was costing me pretty much all of my spare time.

I had a full time job, a girlfriend (now wife), a dog to look after and a number of other commitments. I just didn’t have the time to spend 20+ hours per week working on my blog too. Something had to give.

Selling Refugeeks

On 28th Novemeber 2013 I published my last post on Refugeeks and sold the site. During those 2.5 years I had learned so much, but it had cost me a lot. Honestly, I was glad to see the back of Refugeeks at that point and I still don’t regret selling the site.

Refugeeks is still live, but since selling it, the new owners have let the site go to rack and ruin unfortunately. For the new owners I think it was just a way to live off the ad revenue for as long as they could with minimal effort. They did publish new content for a while, but Refugeeks has gone unloved since 2015.

After selling Refugeeks I wanted blogging to stay very much in the past for a while. So I took some time out, but after a while I got the itch again and did some guest posting.

My Personal Blog

Throughout my time with Refugeeks, I also maintained a personal blog where I could publish opinion pieces and general updates. Basically anything that I didn’t think was suitable for RefuGeeks. Let’s take a look at that side of my blogging history.

In all honestly, it didn’t get much love because I didn’t have time. In the year and a half I had the site, I published just 17 posts. Pretty pointless really.

Personal blog circa 2013
My personal blog circa 2013

As you can see from the screenshot, the design is pretty cool looking, but it’s just too much. There’s too much going on that detracts from the actual content. Another lesson learned there.

My personal blogging increased after I sold Refugeeks. Like Refugeeks, my personal blog also went through several iterations and in 2017 I completely abolished the old blog and started fresh with a new domain and a new design.

Personal blog circa 2015
My personal blog circa 2015

The 2017 blog is the site I still maintain as my personal blog today.

Current blog
The current version of my personal blog

Conclusion

This blogging history brings us up to today. I’ve learned a lot throughout my 9 years of blogging so far, but I still have a lot to learn.

Do you have any blogging car crashes, like Jingi Blog? If so, why not write about it and let me know via my contact page, or using the IndieWeb.

This post is day 23 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

Feature photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash.

Mothballing The Meta Blog & My Plans For This Blog

A few days ago I asked for advice on whether it was a good idea for me to start The Meta Blog. In this post I talk about the decision I’ve made and why.

Quick recap – I started a niche blog about blogging a couple of weeks ago (The Meta Blog), and since had reservations as to whether it was a good idea or not. I was pondering merging those posts into this blog and focussing on this site alone.

My Decision

My decision is probably evident from the title, but in case you missed it, I’ve decided to close The Meta Blog and focus on this one.

I received tonnes of really great feedback from both the community on Fosstodon, as well as my readers on here.

Meta blog poll on Fosstodon

The overwhelming response was to just write about blogging on here. It’s an established blog and people enjoy my writing.

What surprised me was that a lot of people said that the various topics I cover on this blog are actually a positive thing. They enjoy the versatility of my posts, and if it’s something they’re not interested in, they just skip it. No big deal.

I think I was overthinking the whole thing and probably didn’t need a separate blog.

There was one piece of advice that I received from reader and fellow Mastodon user, Coco. They said…

I’m just having a thought right now, does doing this blog reenergizes you or on the contrary does it deplete you?

After reading that sentence I immediately realised that The Meta Blog was sapping my love for blogging; after just a couple of weeks.

Energy Drain

You may wonder why a small fledgling blog was sapping my energy after such a short time.

If I wanted the blog to grow quickly I would have to market it. And to market it I would have to start going down all the rabbit holes that led me to sell my previous site.

I’d have to sign up for Facebook, and Twitter, and Reddit and any other social network needed to market my blog. I’d have to fall into all the traps most blogs have to. Welcome to click bait central!

I don’t want that.

This blog has grown organically by me writing content, getting a good reputation on search engines, and sharing on Fosstodon mostly.

I can focus on what I enjoy – developing the site and writing content. So with that in mind, it was clear to me that The Meta Blog had to go.

So I’ve already taken The Meta Blog down. The 3 posts I had on there have been ported into this blog, and I’ve placed a redirect on all the posts. If you visit any page on The Meta Blog, you will be redirected to the corresponding page on this site.

Next Steps

Although The Meta Blog has gone, I think there’s still a middle ground here. I’ve decided to invest more in this blog to improve it; it’s still going to be the same old me, with the same old writing. But I’m going to take some steps to improve the blog and make it more of a “thing” than a simple side project.

Starting today I’ve added a newsletter to this site, there’s a sign up form at the bottom of every blog post. I intend to use the Newsletter to share, probably monthly, updates about what’s been popular on my blog, what I’m working on, and some exclusive content.

Sounds really markety, right? I know, but hear me out. My exclusive content simply means requests from my subscribers about having input into the site’s direction. Which posts do you want to see more of? What works? What doesn’t?

I’ll add more to the newsletter over time, but I think this is a good start. If you’re interested in getting involved in this little corner of the internet, it would be great if you considered signing up.

As with everything on this site, my newsletter respects your privacy. You can read more about that here.

Redesign

I’m thinking about giving the site a redesign to give me more options. I love the current theme, but I’m getting to limits of what I can accomplish with it I think. It’s only something I’m exploring at the moment – I’m not 100% sure it will happen yet.

If I do though, I will likely bring back comments so that people have more of a voice on here, rather than just the IndieWeb.

Investment

I already invest heavily in this site, but to take it to where I think it can go, it’s going to need more investment. So I may add ways for people to help out in the future. Maybe a Patreon page, or more affiliate linking.

Again, it’s just something I’m exploring at the moment and if I did implement these measure, they would always be optional.

I’m Excited!

I’m really happy with my decision, and I’m very excited about the future of this blog.

As a reader you can look forward to more content, more interactions, and more me…wait, that last one isn’t such a good thing! 🙂

Finally I want to thank everyone who provided their feedback. It’s great when the community comes together like that, and it’s the main reason I do all this.

Don’t forget, if you’re interested in joining my new newsletter, the form is below.

This post is day 22 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

Was Creating A Dedicated Niche Blog A Bad Idea?

A couple of weeks ago, I launched The Meta Blog, but now I’m having second thoughts. This post goes through some of my thoughts and concerns about making a second niche blog.

The Problem

So The Meta Blog is a blog about blogging. I’ve enjoyed blogging for quite a few years and I thought it would be a good idea to have a dedicated blog on the subject.

I have tonnes of ideas for the blog, but since launching I’ve been having bouts of imposter syndrome, and concerns about how sustainable it is to run multiple blogs.

Advantages Of A Niche Blog

The main advantage of creating an additional blog is that I can focus on a single subject, and attract a dedicated audience that is interested entirely in that subject.

By having a blog that isn’t “branded” with my name, it gives me more freedom to do things like have guest posters (hopefully).

I also intend to setup affiliate agreements and a newsletter to help grow the audience, and maybe even make a little money on the side.

Disadvantages Of A Niche Blog

There are three major disadvantages as I see it:

  1. The amount of time it takes to run a blog.
  2. Having to start from scratch.
  3. Imposter syndrome.

My Time

I’m a busy guy. I have a full time job, a family and this blog. I probably spend around 10-15 hours per week maintaining this site and adding content.

It’s a hobby and I enjoy it. But add that to an average 50 hour working week, a dog to walk and a family/household to look after and my days are pretty chock-full.

I’m not complaining! I’m very fortunate and I love my life. But adding another blog to that mix – which will take a lot more than the 10-15 hours I put into this blog because it’s fledgling – and I’m running the risk of becoming overworked.

That’s why I sold my previous blog a few years ago.

Starting From Scratch

As I alluded to above, The Meta Blog is fledgling, and they take a lot more work than an established blog.

No one knows about a new blog. It has no real search rankings, so organically getting traffic is very difficult.

The way to grow initially is using platforms like social media to raise the profile of a new blog. The problem with that is that I loath a lot of social media sites and I just want to write.

I have zero interest in playing the blog marketing game to grow my traffic. Problem is, to do it organically takes way longer. If I have less traffic, no one will want to come and guest post, and affiliate networks won’t be interested.

Ipso facto if I want to grow The Meta Blog quickly, I’m going to have to play the marketing game.

I did that with my previous blog and it worked, but I hated it. I felt like a marketing shill and it didn’t sit well with me from a moral perspective.

Imposter Syndrome

This has been a big problem for me. I’m not an expert in blogging, but I like to think I’m pretty good at it. I’ve also been doing this since 2011 and have learned a lot in that time.

However, the meta blogging space (blogs about blogging) is saturated with extremely clever people running very successful blogs.

I’ve never made a 6 figure salary from a blog, and I probably never will. But I do know about the technology behind blogs and what makes a good blog tick.

That being said, when I compare my knowledge of blogging to someone like Darren Rowse of ProBlogger, I’m not even in the same galaxy, let alone ballpark.

So how can I have the audacity to teach people about blogging?

Conclusion

So my options are twofold:

  1. Keep The Meta Blog and work toward making it grow.
  2. Take it down and write about blogging on this blog.

Honestly, I really don’t know what to do. I was hoping that working through my thoughts in a blog post would help me make a decision, but I’m none the wiser.

What would you do? I’m open to advice here, folks. If you have some, please reply on your own blog; this blog is IndieWeb enabled, so I should get a Webmention if you are too. If you’re not, you can get in touch by more traditional means.

This post is day 21 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

How To Start A Blog If You’re Not A Nerd

So you want to start a blog, but you don’t have a masters degree in computing? I think that everyone should be able to blog, regardless of their technical ability. This post will give you everything you need to get going.

Start A Blog With WordPress

For someone who is new to blogging, I would recommend WordPress as your platform of choice. It has a very strong community around it, and has thousands of themes/plugins to customise your site with.

However, WordPress comes in a few flavours and can be confusing to navigate, so let’s looks at the options.

WordPress.com (free)

The free offering from WordPress can be a good place to get your feet wet with blogging; it’s very easy to get going and there are no complicated servers to worry about. However, there are some limitations to this option.

Generic Domain Name

When you sign up for as free WordPress blog, your blog’s URL will be something like myblog.wordpress.com. This is a big problem because your domain name is your online identity. By not using your own domain for your blog, you’re instantly limiting your branding options.

You can buy a domain name while signing up for WordPress.com, and I would strongly recommend you do so if you have the funds. This isn’t a requirement, however and if you decide not to, myblog.wordpress.com will be ok, but you will have to factor in the purchase of a domain at a later date.

If you do change your mind in the future, you have the option to buy a domain from WordPress retrospectively. WordPress also offer a site redirect service that automatically redirects visitors from your old myblog.wordpress.com address to your funky new domain.

Getting the WordPress redirect service is a requirement in my opinion. Otherwise you will effectively be restarting your blog, as you will lose all of your visitors.

Limited Themes

The free WordPress.com package allows you to customise your site with a number of themes. These free themes have customisation options, so you can change things like accent colours and images.

Understandably, there are far more themes available on the paid plans, but the options available on the free tier aren’t lacking.

WordPress free themes
Some of the free WordPress themes available

Limited Storage Space

With the free tier you get 3GB of storage space for your blog. This may not sound like a lot in a world where phones come with hundreds of GB of storage, but 3GB is enough for a fledgling blog.

Just make sure you don’t upload any huge images. If you’re not sure how to optimise your images for the web, always use an image optimiser like Short Pixel.

The free WordPress package comes with enough to start a blog, but your blog should grow as you progress. With this growth you’re likely to need an upgrade at some point; talking of upgrading…

WordPress.com (paid)

The paid tiers from WordPress.com offer a number of advantages over the free version. If you click on the upgrade button from the admin area, you can purchase domains and upgrade your subscription.

The plan I would recommend for starting out is the Personal plan. It costs $4/month (billed annually) and gives you a free domain for your first year. Upgrading also offers more theme options, 6GB of storage space; it also removes WordPress advertising.

WordPress plan upgrade

Signing up for WordPress.com

Whether you choose a free or paid WordPress.com subscription, the first thing you need to do is sign up for an account.

Sign up to WordPress.com

WordPress sign up form

Once you have created your account, you will be asked if you want to register a domain. You have two options here:

  1. Buy a domain name.
  2. Use a free wordpress.com domain for your blog (highlighted by red box below).
WordPress free domain

As mentioned earlier, I would recommend that you buy a domain if you have the funds to do so. Plus, if you decide to go for one of the paid subscriptions, you won’t need to pay for a domain.

The third and final step is to choose your plan. They range from free, to $45/month. To choose a free account, use the link highlighted in the yellow box:

WordPress.com plans

Once you’re setup with your new WordPress.com blog, it’s time to start exploring the admin area. From here you can add/edit both posts and pages. You can also install new themes and plugins from here too.

We won’t cover using WordPress in this post, as that requires a series of posts (or even an eBook) of it’s own. I would recommend doing the following 4 things before you launch your site though:

  1. Choose a theme and customise it to your needs.
  2. Write an About and Contact page.
  3. Publish a couple of posts.
  4. Register for the free WordPress webinars to learn more about how to manage your new blog.
WordPress admin area

WordPress.org (self-hosted)

The WordPress.org version of WordPress (the very same version that this site is using) requires a lot more work to get started. Not only do you need to get your own domain, you also need to purchase web hosting, then finally install and configure WordPress and a database; and that’s just the basics!

This isn’t easy for someone who is about to start a blog, especially if you’re not a technical person. So I would recommend staying away from this option for the time being.

Having said that, WordPress.org does offer a lot of advantages over WordPress.com, as you can tweak every single part of your blog. There are also many more plugins and themes available to WordPress.org users.

We will cover how to setup a WordPress.org blog from start to finish in a future post, or series of posts.

The Alternatives

WordPress isn’t the only player in the blogging game, but it is the biggest and most well known. Having said that, I feel I would be remiss to not mention some of the alternatives you have available to you when starting a blog.

Blogger (free)

Owned by Google, Blogger is a free blogging platform that is used by a lot of new bloggers. Blogger is actually the service I first use when I started blogging. It’s easier to use than WordPress, but severely lacking. I used it for my first year of blogging, quickly outgrew it and had a nightmare migrating to WordPress.

If you want to try Blogger all you need is a Google account – you can even use your own domain if you have one.

Getting Started

Once you have logged in with your Google account, you will be asked to setup your Blogger profile. This is just your display name on the platform really. This will be used as the name of the person who writes all the posts, so make sure it’s accurate.

Blogger sign up step 1

Now you have you Blogger profile setup, you will be greeted with your Blogger dashboard. This is where you will create your blog. There’s no limit on how many blogs you can create, but I would recommend just starting with one for the time being.

Blogger sign up step 2

To create a blog, click on the Create Blog link in the top left corner of the page. You will be asked to give your new blog a name, as well as an address. This address can be <blog>.blogspot.com, or your own domain name if you have one.

Finally, pick the theme you want to use for your blog and click the Create Blog button. That’s it, you just made your blog!

Blogger sign up step 3

Once you have your new blog setup, hit the orange plus button at the bottom right of the screen to write a new post. Editing is a straightforward affair; once you’re happy with the post, hit the publish button (looks like a right facing arrow at the top right of the screen), and hey presto! Your first blog post is published.

Blogger post editor
New blogger blog

Blogger is great if you want a very simple blog with only a few features. But if you’re serious about blogging, you’re likely to outgrow what Blogger has to offer fairly quickly.

Write.as (free and paid)

Write.as is a great service that offers super simple blogs for free. They also have a paid subscription for $6/month where you can use your own domain name, customise the look of your blog, and have multiple blogs.

The Write.as interface and default blog theme is extermemly minimalist and spartan. So if you’re looking for a blog design that is heavily focused on content alone, Write.as is worth considering.

The only thing that puts me off recommending Write.as to someone who is new to blogging, is that their interface uses Markdown for formatting posts. Markdown is very simple to pickup, but adding Markdown to the list of things to learn may be too much.

We use Write.as for the blog on another project I’m connected to, Fosstodon, so I can speak from personal experience as to how good Write.as is.

The Write.as editor
The Write.as editor

Ghost (paid)

Ghost is very similar to WordPress, but it’s focussed purely on blogging. Where WordPress sites can be formed into all sorts of cool things; like online shops and even social networks, Ghost’s focus is purely blogging.

Ghost is beautifully written and is a joy to use (I used to use it on my personal blog), but there are some issues. The platform based on node.js, and it isn’t as widely used a WordPress. This means it’s difficult to find hosting providers that support Ghost.

Image credit – Ghost

To host a Ghost blog, you either need to be pretty technical, or you need to pay the $29/month for official Ghost hosting. This is pretty expensive for someone just coming into blogging.

You can sign up for a trial to give Ghost a try, but if you’re not prepared to pay $29/month to start out, I’d go for one of the other options in this post instead.

Conclusion

So there you have it folks, if you want to start a new blog, this post should help make the first steps in that journey a little easier.

As we add more content to this site, we will be creating deep-dive posts on blogging platforms of all kinds, as well as writing tips and more general hints on how to improve your blogging experience.

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Feature photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash.

Reviewing My Password Manager Database To Make Me More Secure

I did a review of my password manager entries to see if there were any issues. As a result, I’ve been able to make myself more secure.

I use Bitwarden as my password manager, and I realised the other day that I hadn’t done a review of my password entries for quite some time. Over time I end up using the occasional duplicate password – usually when I quickly sign up for an account and later add it to Bitwarden.

Data breaches are also announced regularly, so it’s good to check if my accounts have been involved in any breaches. If they have, I will then change those passwords to something secure.

Assessing My Accounts

The first thing I did was to assess my accounts. Lucky for me, Bitwarden has some really useful tools to do this. These include:

  • Reused password report.
  • Exposed password report.
  • Weak password report.

Reused Passwords

First thing to check was if I had any duplicate passwords in my password manager.

Bitwarded reused passwords report

Crap!

Exposed Passwords

Next I had a look at any exposed passwords, I believe Bitwarden uses the Have I Been Pwned breach API for this.

I have more than one email address that I use for accounts, so I checked them all. Lucky for me, they all came back clean except 1 email address. This didn’t really shock me as it’s an email I’ve used for years across a lot of accounts.

Double crap!

Weak Passwords

Finally, it’s time to run the weak passwords report to see how things are looking there. I wasn’t expecting there to be any weak passwords within my password manager as I use good practices for generating my passwords.

Lucky for me, I was right:

Bitwarden weak passwords report.

Fixing The Issues

Now I have an idea of what the issues are with my accounts, it’s time to fix them.

Remove Unused Items

There was over 150 items in my password database, some of which I was sure were not being used. So the first thing I did was to review every item in Bitwarden to see if I still needed it.

If I didn’t, I headed to the website, deleted my account, then deleted the item from Bitwarden.

By doing this audit of all my accounts, I was able to delete around 30 accounts from my database, reducing my risk footprint significantly.

Reset Duplicate Passwords

Next it was time to review any remaining duplicated passwords. There were still a few, so I hopped onto those accounts and reset the passwords to something secure.

Bitwarden no reused passwords

That’s the thing with password managers; because you never actually know what your passwords are, it’s easy for duplicate or insecure passwords to remain in your database for long periods.

Conclusion

After a couple of hours work, I was able to remove a number of duplicated passwords from my password manager ensuring my account are more secure.

I’ve also been able reduce the amount of accounts I have lying around the Internet, which is always a good thing.

Overall, I’m very happy with what I have been able to accomplish. Having a password manager continues to prove its worth time and again.

This post is day 20 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.

Choosing The Right Domain Name For Your blog

When starting a blog, choosing the right domain name is extremely important because it becomes your online identity. Let’s talk about how to get it right.

I’ve written about why you should own your own domain in the past, but this post will talk more about the process of choosing the right one.

The first thing you need to know is what a domain actually is. Your domain name is your online identity – it’s the address people type in when they want to visit your blog. So the domain for this blog is kevq.uk.

Things to avoid when choosing the right domain name

The main thing to avoid is obscurity. Obscurity is a domain owner’s arch nemesis, because you need your domain name to be easy to remember and easy to share.

Let’s take an obscure example – my4w3s0mebl0g.com. Now, reading that domain name on screen isn’t too bad, right? It’s clearly an obfuscated version of myawesomeblog.com.

Things are all well and good until your visitors try to remember your domain name so they can come back and read more of your content.

Was it M-Y-A-W or M-Y-4-W? Was there one zero or two?

Visitors everywhere

Now consider you’re having a conversation with someone at a party. They ask you what you do, and you mention your blog. Your friend, obviously interested in checking out your incredible online memoires, asks for the web address.

Oh crap!

The website address is “myawesomeblog.com”, that’s M-Y-4-W-3-S-0-M…

The obscure domain owner

Do you really think this person will be able to remember your blog’s domain name the next morning? I seriously doubt it, especially if they have had one too many glasses of vino the night before!

See how obscure domains can make it difficult for people to remember how to get to your blog? That’s why choosing the right domain name is so important. That cool domain may sound good at first, but it can become a seriously uncool very quickly.

If you decide to call your blog My Awesome Blog, but myawesomeblog.com isn’t available, try alternative top level domains (TLDs), like .net, .org or even .blog.

If you’re desperate to have a particular TLD, try putting a hyphen in your domain name. While not ideal, they’re much easier to communicate than the obfuscated jargon above.

My website address is MY *dash* AWESOME *dash* BLOG *dot* com.

The lesser obscure domain owner

Hyphens should be a last ditched attempt though. If a number of top level domains aren’t available for the name you want, maybe you should think about another name for your blog, as it may be too generic.

Keep your domain name on brand

Once you have decided on a name for your new blog, make sure the domain you pick matches your blog’s name. There’s no point in having a blog called My Awesome Blog that points to ilovemydog.com.

It will confuse your readers and drive them away.

Registering your domain name

So it’s all well good me talking about choosing the right domain name, but it’s completely useless if you don’t know how to check domain name availability. To do this you need a domain registrar.

My personal recommendation is Namecheap. As the name suggests, their domain registration fees are relatively cheap, and they offer free WhoIs privacy by default.

Side note: WhoIs is a database that contains the registration details of a domain’s owner. This database contains contact information, including your address, and anyone can search it for free. So WhoIs privacy is very important.

How much do domain names cost?

Domain names are actually very cheap to buy. The minimum you can register a domain name for is 1 year, but you can pay to register them for multiple years if you wish.

You can find a full list of Namecheap’s domain pricing on their website, but to give you an idea, here are the current prices at the time of writing this post of some common top level domains on Namecheap:

  • .com – £7.30 ($8.85) per year.
  • .net – £9.85 ($11.92) per year.
  • .org – £10.67 ($12.92) per year.
  • .co.uk, .uk & .blog – £5.65 ($6.84) per year.

If your dream domain name is taken, Namecheap will usually offer some relevant alternatives. So don’t worry, fair reader, all is not lost.

Avoid free domains

There are some domain registrars that offer free domain names, .tk is an example that springs to mind.

This may seem like a good idea, but a lot of spammers register these free domains and use them for illicit purposes. For the relatively low cost of a common TLD, is it worth the risk of losing visitors if your free TLD is being misused and black listed?

I don’t think so.

Conclusion

So in conclusion, choosing the right domain name is extremely important. Don’t make it obscure, try to keep it on brand, and if you’re really struggling to find the right domain maybe you have chosen the wrong name for your blog. Also, avoid free domain names, like .tk.

Photo by Oliver Roos on Unsplash.

My Approach To My Career

Unfortunately, my father passed away in 2008 when he was just 47. Cancer is a bitch, folks. My dad was a roofer, and he loved his job. So much so that he was cremated in his work boots and jeans!

Before he passed away, he instilled one thing in me that has served me well throughout my career so far. He used to say:

Do something you love for a living and you will never work a day in your life.

Micky Quirk

I never really understood what that meant as a kid – to me, a job was a means to make money and money meant I could buy stuff, usually electronics and tech.

Boy was I wrong.

After rattling around in shitty dead-end jobs for a few years after college, I decided to do something with my life and I joined the Army. This is where I began to understand what my dad was talking about.

I loved my time in the Army. I got to see the world and I met some amazing people along the way. But tours of Iraq and Afghanistan took their toll, so I moved on after 5 years’ service.

Information Security

The military was my first exposure to InfoSec. I’ve always been interested in technology and geekery of all kinds, but there was something about InfoSec that took it to another level.

I’ve now been in InfoSec for over a decade and I still love my job. I work for a global bank, where I run the Cyber Incident Response function across Europe, Middle East & Africa (EMEA).

It could be a new piece of malware, an insider threat, system vulnerability, or 100 other things – it’s so interesting. Every single day is a different challenge.

Now I’m older and (hopefully) wiser, I understand exactly what my dad meant. He loved his job. The challenge of making a roof look perfect – especially if it was a difficult roof with lots of leadwork, like a Church – was utopia for him.

I’m glad to say that I’m in the same situation; I’m so lucky to be able to earn my living doing something I love.

Of course, there are good and bad days, that’s the same with every job. But I honestly cannot remember the last time I woke up in the morning and didn’t look forward to heading in to work.

Doing what I love means I’m interested in what I do, so it’s easy to go the extra mile. This in turn pays dividends in my career and allows me to progress.

It’s not just the industry that I work with that has this effect on me though, it’s the people too. Many of my colleagues are world-class InfoSec professionals; the impostor syndrome is real when you work with these folks!

I do what I love, and most days do not feel like work. Thanks, dad.

Take The Leap

If you’re working in a job you’re not happy with, move on. Even if you have to take a step back in your career, it’s so worth it in the long run.

I know that’s easier said than done, I get it. We all have bills to pay and taking a pay cut may not be possible for some. But if you have the opportunity to do it, DO IT.

You never know when your number is up – my dad didn’t think that his would be up at 47, that’s for sure – so live each day like it’s your last. I’d hate to look back in 20 years and think what if?

I don’t really know why I decided to write this post. I was thinking about my dad, and his saying just popped into my head. So there it is anyway, my work ethic. Take from that what you will.

Miss you, dad.

This post is day 19 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Visit https://100daystooffload.com to get more info, or to get involved.