Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Art on the Run

One of my favorite pieces of art is Ripple by Tejo Remy and Rene Veenhuizen. You won't need to make an appointment at a gallery to see this piece as it's bolted to the outside of Arlington County's Water Treatment plant. You need only stroll along a delightful trail to take in its 800 feet of social commentary.

I enjoy Ripple for a number of reasons. It's creatively placed and has a well camouflaged meaning. I've come to appreciate that what looks like kids detritus is actually a novel statement on unexpected consequences, ripples if you will, of our behavior. And I get to ponder all this while jogging by.

Given my affinity for seemingly random acts of art, you can appreciate my joy of when I was running the Four Mile Run Wetlands Trail (not far from Ripple) and came across what seemed to be a painted stack of rocks. It wasn't immediately obvious what I was looking at: something discarded, a one off art project? As I ran further on, I saw another stack of painted rocks. Now I had to stop and take some pics. Check it out:

So what I did discover? It seems the Alexandria Commision on the Arts has sponsored three recent art installations. One of them is by Alexander Rudd. And on Alex's Instagram page are these pics:

Those are the sculptures I saw on the trail. In Alex's feed they were in the back of a moving truck.

As for more details, the article describing the art installations says only: "the Alexandria Commission on the Arts did not release information on the nature of those projects."

We got a good 'ol fashion public art puzzle to decode.

I don't think Alex is going to give us much in the way of hints. His 'gram bio reads:

Conceptual read vs arbitrary appearance + algorithmic disposability = objectivity confusion

Yeah, that clears everything up.

Still, challenge-excepted. I'll have to add Four Mile Run to my upcoming running routes to get some more viewing time in.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Caption Me: Divorced Birds Edition

I caught this scene on my run yesterday:

While I'm not sure of the caption yet, these pics do feel worthy of the r/DivorcedBirds treatment. And what is DivorcedBirds you ask? Reddit explains:

For pictures of fabulous fowl who look like serial monogamists. Please post pictures of birds who look like they are twice divorced (or more!) Pictures/Videos must be of actual birds (feathered fowl), not human women, not art or paintings or photoshopped. No dead birds.

In truth, that description doesn't do the sub-reddit justice. Divorced Birds is an exercise in (very) short story writing with the theme of, well, divorce. It captures so many emotions: anger, hope, envy, shame and more with just a pithy headline and follow-up comments. It ranges from unbelievably wholesome to downright wicked. Here's an example that's currently on the home page:

So, what's the deal with the above birds? Leave your divorce, or not, related captions as a comment.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Who's reading what? Tracking User Interaction in WordPress's Arconix FAQ Plugin

I added a FAQ to my website and found myself with a new question: what FAQs were people actually reading? I'm using the WordPress Arconix FAQ plugin which let me easily author and display questions and answers, but doesn't appear to track usage.

My solution: push an event to Google Analytics every time a user expands a FAQ. Google Analytics does the heavy lifting, as it will store and report on event activity. All I have to do is to convince WordPress to send the event when the user clicks on a question. Here's how I did that.

Step 1: Add Event Tracking to my Theme

In my theme's functions.php I added the following code:

add_action('wp_enqueue_scripts', function() {
                    get_template_directory_uri() . "/js/analytics.js",
                    md5_file(__DIR__ . "/js/analytics.js"));

This loads js/analytics.js when my theme loads, and forces the browser to pick up changes when I modify analytics.js. I've made analytics.js depend on jquery. This simplifies the code that will be found in analytics.js.

Step 2: Add The Event Tracking Code

Inside of js/analytics.js I added the following code:

jQuery(document).ready(function($) {

  function sendEvent(action, category, label) {
    console.log("GA Event", action, category, label);
    gtag('event', action, {
      event_category: category,
      event_label: label,
      value: 1,
      send_to: MEASUREMENT_ID

  $(document).on('click', '.arconix-faq-title', function() {
    var me = this;
    setTimeout(function() {
      var expanded = $(me).hasClass('faq-open');

      if(expanded) {
        sendEvent('show', 'faq', $(me).text());
    }, 100);


You'll want to be sure you update the value of MEASUREMENT_ID so that it contains your analytics property identifier.

I'm monitoring clicks on the CSS class .arconix-faq-title. I added a 100 millisecond delay because I'm not confident of the timing of things. I want to check if the FAQ is expanded, the time delay insures that when I do this check the UI code will have already run.

With these bits of code in place I can now check out FAQ activity in Google Analyics:

If I drill down into Event Category and set the Event Label as the secondary dimension I'm able to see the questions that get the most traction.

But Wait, There's More!

Now that I've gotten the hang of sending events, I couldn't stop at just tracking the FAQ page. I added this code to analytics.js to track Contact Form 7 submissions. In this case, I'm using the subject of the e-mail as the event label:

  $(document).on('wpcf7submit', function() {
    var subject = event.detail.formData.get('your-subject');

    sendEvent('submit', 'contact-us', subject);

My company's home page includes a call to action button and a mini FAQ. I added events to track their interaction as well:

$(document).on('click', '.q-and-a-grid .entry', function() {
    var q = $(this).find('.question').text();
    sendEvent('click', 'home-faq', q);

  $('a[href="#content-start"]').click(function() {
    sendEvent('click', 'home-button', 'learn-more');
    return true;

You've Got To Have Goals

Along with viewing these events within Google Analytics, it's possible to set these up as goals. For example, here's the goal definition for my FAQ page:

One interesting use for goals is to power experiments within Google Optimize. For example, you could run A/B tests on different wording for a question, and have Google pick the one that's read most frequently.

Want a Hand?

Want help setting up custom even tracking for your website? I'll spare you reading the FAQ and tell you that I'm glad to help. Drop me an email via or hit me up on my contact-us page.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

On This Day, Blogger Edition

I recently built On This Day: Google Photos Edition. This tiny web app shows you photos you took on the current date going back 15 years. I built it originally for finding Zoom Backgrounds, but found it to be a suprising source of inspiration and entertainment.

I've been publishing this blog for almost 16 years. I've often struggled with maintaining past posts. Services (I'm looking at you, Google Picasa!) and technologies (and you, Flash!) have come and gone over the years, leaving some posts pathetically broken.

If had a tool like On This Day: Pics, that let me see what blog posts I created on this date, I could review and edit these posts. If I made this a daily habit, I could slowly work my way through my 6,500+ posts without breaking a sweat.

I give you: On This Day: Posts edition, a quick web app that dumps out the posts you authored on this day.

I see that most of the posts from today are still looking good. The video I shot of Shira driving in Australia back in 2009 still works, and the pics from our first day traveling in Singapore are also there.

I did find, however, that write-only a tool I made to experiment with append only writing was broken. After a few minutes of JavaScript debugging, it was back to working.

There's still a need for tools to help maintain my blog. The labels, for example, are a mess and a bulk-label-fixing tool has been on my radar for years. But this day by day, spot-check-and-fix approach seems to hold real promise.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

You've got Questions. I've got Answers. Finally.

If you have an online business, it's a no-brainer to offer a FAQ section on your website. And yet, for years, my website went without this basic page. I'd always been too busy, or had some other execuse, to put it together.

But no more! I finally forced myself to focus on this, and a few hours later the Ideas2Executables FAQs page was born. I've never been so excited over a list of questions and answers before.

Can you think of any business or software development questions you'd like answered that didn't make the list? I'm a question-answering beast now!

Thursday, March 11, 2021

You Need This Information | What to do in a Power Line Emergency

If you're think I'm blogging about power line safety as part of my disaster planning kick, I applaud your attentiveness. But no, this post is all thanks to the goofy sub-Reddit /r/ThatLookedExpensive.

Here's the Reddit post that inspired this PSA. It features a dump truck that makes contact with power lines and disaster strikes from there. The comments on the post talk about what actions you can safely take if you find yourself in this situation. Ultimately, someone linked to this dramatization offered by Puget Sound Energy.

As I watched this video, I thought to myself: how do I not know this information? This feels like information that I should know.

So yeah, because you live and drive near power lines, you need to know this information too. Take 5 minutes and watch the video.

For a quick recap of what to do during a power line emergency, check out my First Aid Cheat Sheet.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

On This Day, Google Photos Edition

A First World Problem

With so many meetings and events being held on Zoom I found I had a new first world problem: what photo should I select for my background?

After a bit of experimentation I arrived at a solution: I'd look at    photos that I taken on the current date going back a few years, and pick from one of those.

While I did this to help narrow the photos to pick from, it had surprising side effects. I found it instructive and inspirational to look back through the years and see where I was traveling and what projects I was working on. Picking a background became a useful little exercise in itself.

The Manual Solution

Convincing Google Photos to show photos taken on a particular day took a bit of experimentation. I found what works best is to search for date spelled out and quoted like so: "March 10, 2010". Yes, the quotes are necessary. Attempts use other formats didn't work reliably.

The Automated Solution

Naturally, I got tired of searching by hand. So I made an app for that. I give you:

This little web app is slow and buggy. Most of the coding effort was spent getting OAuth2 authentication to work, and even then it's struggling with token-refreshing. I also spent more time than I'd like to admit puzzling out how to call the searchMediaItems method on the PhotosLibraryClient. Ultimately, I figured out how to get it to accept the specific date and result size I was targeting.

Still, as rough as the app is, it meets the need. I can now visit the on-this-day, and after a few moments, I see photos I took going back to 2010.

I'm now using this to set my desktop background on a daily basis. I'm telling you, this little walk down memory lane is surprisingly enlightening.

Check out the code for on-this-day over at github. If you're looking for OAuth and Google Photo PHP API SDK examples, this code may be instructive. Or maybe it's a cautionary tale. Either way, I hope you find the code and site useful.

Monday, March 08, 2021

Review: The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why

I finished The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes - and Why by Amanda Ripley and couldn't help but feel overwhelmed. She covers so many disasters from some many different perspectives, that by the end of the text I was maxxed out.

I'm sure that wasn't her intention, but the comprehensive nature of of the book struck me as a disadvantage. Ripley's a journalist, not guru, so her mission is to share what survivors and experts have to say about their experiences, not tout her own philosophy. This leads to advice that naturally contradict each other.

Consider this example: first, to reduce information overload focus on disasters that are likely to happen. Ignore the media hype. You're more likely to be injured in a car accident, then be involved in an active shooter incident, so focus on steps you can take to increase your safety on the road.

However, a second tenet of the book is that it's precisely the outlier events, the unthinkable ones if you will, that leave you open to catastrophic handling because they so unfamiliar. So it's not likely that you will end up in an active shooter incident, but if you do and you've done no preparation, chances are you'll react poorly.

In short, by the end of the text, I didn't anymore anecdotes or experts; I just wanted to be told what to do!

After some reflection, however, I've come to appreciate The Unthinkable's approach. Yes, it's goal of being comprehensive can be daunting, but it also elucidates a novel strategy. To me, it goes like this:

During an emergency, a person travels through three stages: denial, deliberation and the decisive moment. Ideally, you'd zip through denial, have quick and intelligent deliberations and execute the best actions available to you during the decisive moment. Through Ripley's research, we appreciate that there's no way to guarantee an optimial traverse through these stages. Even your everday temperment isn't a strong indicator of how you'll perform.

But, there is good news: through small changes, you can improve your performance in a disaster. Take the active shooter scenario above. If you complete Run / Hide / Fight Training, get into the habit of noticing exits when you walk into buildings, practice leaving through different routes at your work place and keep a trauma kit at your desk, you'll be in a far better position to survive an active shooter. You'll also be in a better position to deal with a fire, earthquake or coutless other disasters that call for evacuation and the possiblity of mass casualties.

Using this approach, I can imagine a simple disaster optimization algorithm: identify risks, look for simple yet effective ways to mitigate these risks and put these discoveries into practice. And repeat.

So yes, Unthinkable is daunting. But in this context it's also uplifting. You don't need to spend huge amounts of money or re-work your entire life to be disaster ready. What you do is need is imagination, creativity and perseverance. As disaster after disaster shows in Ripley's book, small changes can have a mighty impact.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

Yum! Greens n Teff, Vegan Ethiopian Goodness

We tried Greens N Teff last night for the first time, and it was an all around fantastic experience. GnT is a purely vegan Ethiopian place that opened down the street from us. Considering how much we like Ethiopian food and how rare fully vegetarian restaruants are in the area, this is a bit like winning the lottery.

On paper the place seemed great, but we tried to temper our expectations.

While on a walk in the warm'ish weather yesterday we placed an order and 25 minutes later dropped by to pick it up. GnT is tucked away in a tired looking part of the Pike. What we found when walked in delighted us: a spotless location with a warm couple who welcomed us and had our food ready. I asked about Minchet, a dish that was available to order but didn't have a description on the menu. Their response: here, try a sample. It was tasty, perhaps we'll get it next time.

Once home, we chowed down on our order. The Mushroom Tibs was probably the winner for the tastiest dish, though they were all solid.

There hasn't been a whole lot of great resterauant news for us during the pandemic. Heck, we lost our donut shop at the end of last year. But a vegan restaurant walking distance from our home? What more could we ask for?

Between GnT and Dama (also on Columbia Pike), we're more than covered for all our Ethiopian food needs.

Update: Apparently we aren't the only ones who are impressed with Greens N Teff. Arlnow reports that the community in general is a fan.

Tuesday, March 02, 2021

Using 1password To Seamlessly Manage Subversion Credentials

Subversion Authentication is Painful. Let's Fix That.

Subversion authentication is a pain. For years, I got by on plain text storage, but that's insecure and deprecated. On some platforms, like Mac OS, it's possible to use the system keychain to manage access. However, this becomes both a source of inconsistency and frustration as I work across multiple devices and operating systems.

What I wanted was to have subversion pull my credentials out of 1password. But how would I even begin to add this support to subversion?

Inspired by the 1password command line tool and this recipe for managing ssh keys in 1password, I found a way. This post is my attempt to document that process.

Assemble the Pieces

Convincing subversion to use 1password for authentication requires three properly configured components. If any of the three tools isn't setup right, the chain fails and authentication is a no go. Let's go through this step by step.

Tool 1: op

The op command line tool gives you shell script access to 1password. Make sure you can sign in and pull down the password for the relevant subversion accounts. Here's how that may look:

# The First Time
$ op signin

# After the account is setup
$ eval $(op signin allmysecrets)

# Print the password for your subversion account.
$ op get item 'master svn account' | \
  jq -r '.details.fields[] | select(.designation=="password").value'

Tool 2: gpg-agent

gpg-agent is the glue that holds our solution together. Subversion, as we'll see in a moment, can be convinced to consult gpg-agent for credentials. Using gpg-agent's ability to preset a passphrase, it's possible to programmatically insert credentials into gpg-agent. To configure this, make sure your gpg-agent config file, ~/.gnupg/gpg-agent.conf, has the following settings:

default-cache-ttl 34560000
max-cache-ttl 34560000

The allow-preset-passphrase setting is key. It's what allows gpg-agent to accept passphrases from an external source like 1password. The high values for default-cache-ttl and max-cache-ttl ensure that once I store credentials in gpg-agent they won't time out. This is personal preference, and if you wished, you could lower this value.

Having a properly configured gpg-agent gets you most of the way there. The last challenge to setting up gpg-agent is finding the location of the gpg-preset-passphrase command on your system. In every version of Linux I use, I find it's in a different location. For example, I'm composing this blog post on a Windows Subsystem for Linux Ubuntu instance, and gpg-preset-passphrase is found in /usr/lib/gnupg/.

With the config setup and gpg-preset-passphrase found, it's time to try this out.

# Confirming our test creds aren't there.
$ echo "GET_PASSPHRASE --no-ask --data passphrasetest1 a b c" | gpg-connect-agent
ERR 67108922 No data <GPG Agent>
# Store the credentials
$ /usr/lib/gnupg/gpg-preset-passphrase -c -P "ShhhItsASecret" passphrasetest1  

# Confirm they are stored
$ echo "GET_PASSPHRASE --no-ask --data passphrasetest1 a b c" | gpg-connect-agent
D ShhhItsASecret

Tool 3: subversion

First off, your version of subversion needs to be built with gpg-agent support. Check this by running svn --version:

$ svn --version
svn, version 1.13.0 (r1867053)
   compiled Mar 24 2020, 12:33:36 on x86_64-pc-linux-gnu
The following authentication credential caches are available:

* Gnome Keyring
* GPG-Agent
* KWallet (KDE)

If GPG-Agent isn't listed under available authentication credential caches then you need to build or download a version of subversion that does have this support. It'll be worth it, I promise.

Next, update ~/.subversion/config so that it uses the gpg-agent authentication cache:

### Section for authentication and authorization customizations.
### Set password stores used by Subversion. They should be
### delimited by spaces or commas. The order of values determines
# password-stores = gpg-agent,gnome-keyring,kwallet
### To disable all password stores, use an empty list:
password-store = gpg-agent

Next, perform an operation that requires subversion authentication, like say 'svn up.' If all goes well, svn should prompt you for your password by using your system's gpg-agent pin-entry program. You can cancel out of this.

Finally, determine a number of important details with how subversion is interacting with gpg-agent. Do this by looking in the subversion auth directory, ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple/. You should see files named like so:

$ cd ~/.subversion/auth/svn.simple
$ ls -1

There should be one file for each subversion domain that you access. Peeking inside one of these files should show you something like the following:

$ cat 3f08d77847ea42f0b7b1ccd66fd14138
K 8
V 9
K 15
V 39
<> SVN
K 8
V 3

This config file tells subversion that whenever it wishes to access repositories hosted on, it should do so using the username 'dev' and consulting gpg-agent for the password.

Let's Do This

Before we tie all this together, let's look at how this supposed to work. Suppose you enter the command:

$ svn checkout

Subversion will look for the configuration file that correspond to the realm string < SVN>. In our example above, it will find this in the file named 3f08d77847ea42f0b7b1ccd66fd14138. It will then use this filename to ask gpg-agent for the credentials matching the keygrip 3f08d77847ea42f0b7b1ccd66fd14138. Our goal, therefore, is to to preset our passphrase for this hex value using the password found in 1password.

Here's one solution to accomplish this:

# sign in to 1password
$ eval $(op signin allmysecrets)

# store the svn repo password in a shell variable
$ svn_password=$(op get item 'master svn account' | \
  jq -r '.details.fields[] | select(.designation=="password").value')

# store the password in gpg-agent with the correct hex key
$ /usr/lib/gnupg/gpg-preset-passphrase -c -P "$svn_password" 3f08d77847ea42f0b7b1ccd66fd14138

# And we're done! svn should find the credentials in gpg-agent and
# not bother asking us
$ svn checkout src
$ cd src
$ svn switch ^/branches/feature-x

I have a shell script that contains a mapping of svn domains to 1password uuid's. This let's me run a single command to authenticate  all svn domains in one go. Every time I run it I feel a bit of joy; my passwords are securely stored in 1password and they are seamlessly available to svn.

It was a long journey to get this all sorted, but it was so worth it!

Monday, March 01, 2021

Preparing for the Unthinkable, Part 2 - Trauma Kits

Let's Talk Trauma Kits

Shira and I recently attended Until Help Arrives (UHA) training, a County designed class to train bystanders to save lives during a mass casualty event. In the class, they highlighted a number of store-bought materials minimally trained individuals can use to save lives. I've compiled these items to form two different types of trauma kits.

The first kit is a full sized, deluxe version. It's bulky, but contains everything a person needs to execute the TECC Active Bystander Guidelines. It's intended to be staged near a potential catastrophe: say, in a desk drawer, behind a bimah, or in the trunk of a car.

The pocket version is more compact, but requires that you augment it with materials in the field. It's intended to go in your purse, or man bag. It gets deployed when a crisis happens at an unexpected location, like a concert or a movie theater.

Before I dive into the details of each kit, let's talk about a favorite topic: improvisation.

On Improvisation

Whenever the topic of trauma kits comes up, there's typically mention of two principles: first, that the items found in a trauma kit can be improvised from everyday materials. If you have a table cloth, fork and steak knife, then you can craft a tourniquet with relative ease. The second principle: for a minimally trained individual, purpose-built devices are going to be far more successful then their improvised cousins. So, yes you can make a tourniquet out of a table cloth, but in a high-stress situation where a loved one has minutes to live, you're going to be far more successful with a SAM XT tourniquet than the home made version.

I would  add to that discussion that there's broadly two flavors of improvisation: planned and unplanned. One common improvisation is to create a chest seal out of a Ziploc bag and tape. Consider Alice who happens to keep a Ziploc bag and tape in her purse. Both these items are nearly weightless, bulk-less and have countless uses. If an emergency happens, Alice can improvise a chest seal out of items she knows she has on her person. Bob, on the other hand, hasn't staged these items. If an emergency happens, he needs to first search out a baggie and tape before he can start improvising. The best option is for both Alice and Bob to have access to a stocked trauma kit which would contain a medical grade chest seal. If that's not possible, I'd argue that Alice is in a far better position than Bob to deliver care even though they are both improvising.

My point: if you have to fallback on improvisation, a little planning can go a long way.

The Full Size Kit

Primary Tourniquet: SAM XT - this is the UHA's recommended tourniquet and I see why. Its satisfying click when you tighten it in place helps assure you  that you're using it properly. In the situation above where a loved one is bleeding uncontrollably, this is the device you want on hand.

Secondary Tourniquet: SWAT-T Tourniquet. Not as easy to deploy as the SAM-XT, but still a reputable, field proven tourniquet. It has the advantage of being multi-purpose and working on limbs of any size, including children and pets.

Pressure Dressing: 6" Israeli Bandage. The Israeli Bandage is a legendary piece of battlefield kit. Instead of having to carefully dress a wound with a gauze pads and then wrap it with an Ace-wrap to keep it in place, the Israeli Bandage provides an all in one solution. For bleeding that doesn't call for a tourniquet the Israeli Bandage is the way to go.

Secondary Pressure Dressing: SWAT-T Tourniquet + Gauze.

Wound Packing Aid: Rolled Gauze. This may get swapped out with hemostatic gauze at some point, but for now, cheap, multi-purpose gauze is the winner.

Chest Seal: HyFin Vent Chest Seal. Bulky and relatively expensive these do one job, and do it well. If you ever need to do deploy a chest seal, you're going to be glad you didn't skimp.

Hypothermia/Shock Treatment: S.O.L. Heatsheet Emergency Blanket. In theory, a cheap (around $1.00) Mylar blanket will keep a victim warm while you take other actions to raise their body temperature. However, I like to splurge on the upgraded Heatsheet version because they are less likely to tear, are quieter to use and I've got a track record of using them successfully in the woods.

Other Tools: Medical Scissors and Nitrile Gloves. The scissors are helpful in exposing wounds. The gloves are standard PPE.

The Pocket Version

Primary Tourniquet: SWAT-T. Given the size restrictions of the pocket kit, the SWAT-T is the way to go.

Primary Pressure Bandage: SWAT-T + any fabric you have on hand. The fabric can be almost anything: a handkerchief, COVID mask, part of your clothing, etc.

Wound Packing Aid: Any fabric you have on hand. This may be on your person, a handkerchief, Buff, t-shirt, etc. Or, this may be in your environment: a sheet, towel, table cloth, curtains, etc.

Chest Seal: improvised from the bag that holds the kit, and the included tape.

Hypothermia/Shock Treatment: S.O.L. Heatsheet Emergency Blanket.

Other Tools: Leukotape and Nitrile Gloves. The Luekotape is a terrifically useful item to have and has far more uses than just creating a chest seal.

Pro Tip: All the items I purchased for the above kits were reimbursed when Shira submitted a Flex Spending Account (FSA) claim. She classified both styles of tourniquets, the chest seals and the the Israeli bandages under the section pertaining to bandages.  So if you find yourself with extra FSA bucks at the end of the year, it's a safe bet to put some of that money towards emergency medical supplies.