Tech Updates

I made a call to Bell today to make some changes to our various services they provide to us. Specifically, that’s home phone, Fibe TV and fibre internet.

My intention was to get rid of the home phone completely, but for various reasons related to the ridiculous ways companies like Bell and Rogers price things, it was cheaper to keep the home phone for a while longer.

Overall, I was able to reduce the monthly bill substantially, while maintaining basically the same TV package we had, and also upgrading from 300Mb/s fibre to full gigabit fibre.

We’re still considering getting rid of TV and phone completely and going gigabit only, but that will wait for a bit. I think streaming services aren’t quite there yet in Canada, and OTA is a bit of an investment in terms of an antenna and also a tuner/PVR plus a more powerful server for Plex.

On the phone side, we now have some sort of basic line with no features. I may just disconnect the phone entirely since literally the only people who call us are air duct cleaning companies, Bell Canada, polling companies and charities looking for money.

Getting into PHP

I used to know a fair bit of PHP and could write simple WordPress plugins or basic pages. With the recent interest in Shortcuts, I started thinking it would be easier to do some of the little things I wanted to do with PHP on the web instead of using Shortcuts on my iPhone.

My first little project was a TTC Flexity Streetcar Delivery Tracker. The TTC is getting new streetcars from Bombardier on a regular basis, and myself and other transit users and fans like to track the arrival of new cars.

The TTC API, provided by NextBus provides some clues that a streetcar has arrived and is being tested or has entered service. Using the API, I’m grabbing data about an array of vehicles and then showing them in a table. That wasn’t too difficult to do for desktop, but getting it to look good on mobile was a bit tougher.

A few tutorials later, I got the media queries figured out and I’m showing the table rows as cards on my phone.

I’m really pleased with how this turned out and I’m already thinking ahead to my next little project. While there are a bunch of good apps like the Transit App that will tell you when your bus is coming, they are a little too complicated for Mac to use.

I’m going to make here a special webpage that will show her the next two buses home from Variety Village. It’s just the information she needs in a simple presentation.

Getting into Shortcuts

I’ve been playing around with the iOS app Shortcuts lately to see what types of things I can automate.

Shortcuts app is technically new as of iOS 12 but it’s been around for a few years as an app called Workflows that Apple acquired and integrated more deeply into the system.

I started by going through a tutorial on Apple’s website that took me through getting some data from a weather API and then doing something with it. I used the free OpenWeatherMap API and grabbed the current temperature for Toronto and had Siri speak it out loud.

That got me used to dealing with JSON API’s and also with how you hand data around inside Shortcuts to build more complex automations.

Next up, I decided to see if I could create a Shortcut that would tell me when the next bus was leaving the stop in front of Variety Village heading westbound towards our house.

I used the open Nextbus API and made a Shortcut that gets the time until the next bus is coming (five buses actually) and then speaks that out via Siri.

Once I’d perfected that Shortcut, I decided to try something a bit more complex. Often times the kids will come via transit to meet us in downtown Toronto. The Nextbus API also has an endpoint that provides the location of any vehicle by the vehicle number. I built a Shortcut that asks for the vehicle number, and then gets the latitude and longitude of that bus or streetcar and shows it in Apple Maps.

Limitless potential

I’m just getting started with Shortcuts. There’s so much you can do from grabbing public API data and manipulating it to taking text from one app and using the WordPress API to publish a blog post without ever opening a browser.

If you have an iPhone or iPad, check it out. There’s a lot of neat Shortcuts in the Gallery to get you started and show you what’s possible.

Back to the .com

After a time using a .blog domain with WordPress.com as my host, I decided to head back to my original jameskoole.com domain as my one-and-only domain and website.

The reasons are:

  1. WordPress announced that they aren’t going to provide a domain for free with their personal plans anymore.
  2. I didn’t have a great site up at my .com domain.
  3. My running blog is no more and was folded into this site anyways.
  4. I’m good at SEO now and have the 301 redirects in place to move all the search engine results over to jameskoole.com without issue.
  5. I want to get better at managing a server and doing things myself as I’ve fallen out of practice.

I opted to install WordPress on DigitalOcean in an Ubuntu droplet. That means some command line fun to get things like the Let’s Encrypt certs installed and renewed via cron. It’s pretty cheap to do it this way as the droplet is $5/month and it also gets me a server I can use for things other than the site.

Things went well with the move over (thanks WordPress for keeping data portability alive in an age of silos). Redirects are in place and I’ll be able to kill the .blog site and domain soon.

The Sad State of Journalism

US Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Caroline) had a nice series of Tweets on today’s quite sickening White House press conference which I’ve embedded below.

In my opinion, Senator Graham nails it. Mainstream media journalists in the US have deluded themselves into thinking that they should be, and are part of the Resistance.

What I saw today was so-called journalists trying to make themselves the story rather than doing their jobs. They have the distinct privilege of being able to ask questions of President Trump and instead of asking questions that everyone might want to hear the answers to, they’ve decided to turn this into their own soap box where they ask loaded, partisan questions that serve only to elevate their own agendas.

You are journalists. Do your job.

Midterms

It’s finally election day in the US. Sadly, in spite of the fact that the campaigns for _this_ election are now over, the campaigning for 2020 is just beginning. The US election campaign is never-ending and a permanent fixture.

Will the Republicans hold onto the Senate and the House? Will Democrats make gains and start the push back against the Trump Presidency? We’ll find out tonight…

No matter what happens, it will be more of the same political games for at least two more years.

Priced out of Apple Stuff

Hey Tim,

Nice updates to the iPad Pro and that Mac mini looks pretty cool (finally). But can we talk about the price of this stuff? I literally can’t afford it and I’m pretty well off. Every single product you announced is hundreds of dollars more expensive than the products they replace. And in many cases, you kept the old one around at the same price as it was selling for yesterday.

That’s just crazy.

Housekeeping

I decided that since I rarely update my running blog anymore, that it would make sense to roll all that content into this blog. Thanks to the WordPress import/export feature, I was able to easily combine the two sites into one.

Posts that aren’t running related (like pics and short posts) will be in the Notes category. All the former runnerjames.com posts are now in the Runner James parent category with the old subcategories underneath.

I’m using Cloudflare’s super cool Page Rules to serve up 301 Permanent Redirects from old runnerjames.com URLs to the new jameskoole.blog URLs.  For example, this post on the old blog – https://runnerjames.com/2016/01/03/getting-the-most-out-of-strava/ automatically redirects to it’s new home here and the redirect alerts the search engines that the URL is moved so they will update those links over time to point to the new URL.

I’ve also updated the theme to handle full posts a bit better. And I added an Instagram widget to the sidebar since I’m using that service a little bit more these days despite the Facebook connection. Request a follow there if you want.

Bikeshare Toronto

I signed up for an annual Bike Share Toronto membership today. The economics make a ton of sense. $69.99 for a year of unlimited rides of 30 minutes or less (with the Presto Card holder discount) is a steal.

The Transit App makes the whole experience unbelievably simple. I can plan my ride on Transit and it’ll tell me which Bike Share station to start and finish at (including how many bikes are at the starting station and how many empty slots are at the finishing station. Plus it provides a route that is bike-friendly and a pretty accurate time estimate for the trip.

I used Bike Share yesterday to go from my office in Liberty Village over to Ginny’s office on the east side of downtown. It took about 25 minutes door-to-door which easily beat the TTC over that route (even with the King St. Pilot Project in play). The bike lanes across Adelaide and Richmond make for a safer trip and there are tons of other cyclists which helps with visibility.

I can’t make it to and from work under 30 minutes so I don’t think a full commute on Bike Share will ever replace the current TTC streetcar ride I take, but for these trips around downtown, it’s a perfect solution.

Taylor Swift Reputation Stadium Tour – Toronto Night One

The whole family took in Taylor Swift’s Reputation Stadium Tour stop in Toronto on Friday.

We waited a long time for this night to come and 241 days after we bought the tickets, and 1,099 days after we decided we would go to see Taylor Swift the next time we had the chance, it was finally here.

We were sitting in section B3 row 17 seats 1-4 and the B-stage ended up being a fair bit closer than I had even expected. All we did was move down to the end of our row when everyone moved to surround the stage. She did three songs there and we were fortunate to get within about ten feet of Taylor for that part including the acoustic secret song.

We had a great view of the main stage as well with Ginny and Lindsey on the aisle so they wouldn’t have their views blocked by taller people in front. Mac and I are both tall enough that we could easily see over the crowd.

The light up LED wristbands were a cool part of the show.

Our view just prior to the start of the show. The staging was impressive with giant screens that moved up and down and revealed various levels behind where the band was located.

…Ready For It was the opening song. Obviously.

For Love Story the wristbands were pink and it was pretty magical. The mix of old and new songs made for a great concert.

She’s moved over to the B-stage now (via a suspended stage that carried her from the main stage while she sang Delicate) and then we were super close for Shake it Off.

Charli XCX and Camila Cabello joined Taylor for Shake it Off.

Fun was being had by everyone in the crowd and clearly also those on stage.

Slowing it down for the secret song right in front of us. Out of the Woods (acoustic).

Pretty epic to be so close for this set. We could hear Taylor singing.

Just a wild part of the evening…I never imagined we would be so close.

My favourite shot of the night. The spotlight was perfect.

Don’t Blame Me was probably the most theatrical and vocally impressive song of the night. Really well done.

Call It What You Want. I call it amazing.

I stopped taking photos at this point since things really just turned into a fun dance party with everyone enjoying the last few songs. Getaway Car featured some beautiful footage on the screens that was synced with the wristbands for a really nice effect. In my mind, it’s one of the best songs on the new album.

The show closed with a mashup of This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things and We Are Never Getting Back Together which I didn’t take any photos or video of since we were just having too much fun singing and dancing with everyone else.

All in all? A great show.