Ryan D. Sullivan

Productivity, Business, and Being a Dad

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Category: Software

What’s on my desk?

Quick disclaimer: I definitely cleaned my desk before snapping these photos. Please don’t believe for a second that my desk looked like this for more than 60 seconds. In fact, the Coke Zero is already opened.

I’m still not totally sure why I put this blog post together other than I’ve always enjoyed seeing what’s on other people’s desks. So I figured “Hey, I can be other people and maybe the other other people will like seeing how I’ve got things setup.”

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How I Backup My Personal Computer

When it comes to protecting data, I’m all about redundancy. If I don’t have at least two additional copies of every single file on my computer, it’s not sufficiently backed up.

First thing I should mention is that I use a Mac computer. In fact, all the computers in our home are Macs. This isn’t a political statement so please save your flames, it’s just something I need to mention so you know right away that your mileage may vary with the information in this article.

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How I Manage Notifications for all my Messaging Apps

Holy smokes there are a lot of messaging apps. Right?

  • Email
  • Slack
  • Hangouts
  • Telegram
  • Signal
  • WhatsApp
  • Basecamp

And that doesn’t count all of the social apps that have essentially become secondary messaging platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram.

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How I Read The Entire Internet in 60 Minutes a Day

Something I’ve really taken to heart over the last 30 days, is the notion of becoming a better writer by reading more.

There are the obvious benefits of becoming more educated, and a more well-rounded human overall, but my motivation here comes from wanting to create really stellar content for our company blog. That’s the short-term motivation anyway.

About a month ago I started trying to figure out the best system for me to read as much as possible with my already limited amount of time.

  • I looked at subscribing to a million email lists and setting up fancy filters – nah, too disruptive
  • I thought about using Twitter as my go-to source and setting up twitter lists for the sources I wanted to follow – TOTAL DISASTER
  • I even looked at a few apps like FlipBoard and SkyGrid – Closer, but still not quite what I was looking for

So I went to the drawing board and started looking for something that would guide to me good content, but that also gave me full freedom to add whatever I wanted on my own.

This is the workflow I use to read THE ENTIRE INTERNET™ in about 60 minutes per day

Aside: Is it called a workflow if it’s for reading? A ReadFlow? A ConsumptionFlow?

Feedly is the firehose

I’ve seen Feedly in the past, but had never spent much quality time with it. For those of you who don’t know, Feedly is essentially an RSS reader on steroids. You can use it like an old fashioned reader of old by pasting in your feed URL, but it’s also really good at detecting an RSS feed when you just start typing in the site you want to get new content from.

Easily add content to Feedly

Feedly also has hashtags for certain topics, and you can subscribe to entire topics if you’re ready to really dig though some content. I haven’t been quite that brave yet, but maybe someday…

Another pretty cool feature I discovered on Feedly is what they call Curated Collections. It’s basically groups of sites that are curated by internet celebrities. Some of the collections seem very inline with the curators, and some are probably using some really terrible personality algorithm, so proceed with caution before you “Add all”.

Curated Collections

I currently have about 100 Feedly subscriptions, which doesn’t sound like too many, but a lot of those sources are publishing as many as 30-40 new pieces of content every day, so I end up sifting through over 500 articles daily. OK, I admit. It isn’t quite the entire internet, but it’s still A LOT of content.

The Sifting Process

Now that I have a mountain of articles to read through, and my time is still super limited, the next thing I do is start sifting through the garbage.

There’s plenty of garbage.

I use a few different factors while working toward getting to the good stuff.

  • Relevance – is this topic important to me or my business? Does it sound like something I’ll enjoy reading?
  • Timeliness – is this something that matters to me now? Or will it matter to me in 6 months?
  • Headlines – I know it probably seems superficial, but headline quality definitely plays a role in whether or not I choose to read an article.
  • Popularity – Feedly shows a social share metric in their list view that lets me know if this is something that has resonated with other people like me. Here’s what it looks like.

Anything that can’t get my attention based on those four factors gets deleted. I don’t even skim the first paragraph. It’s dead to me.

I’m sure I’m missing a few hidden gems, but I have to stay vigilant or I’ll never finish in my sixty minute time window.

Reading Time

Pocket Homepage

I save everything else to Pocket. I love Pocket so much. The reading experience is fantastic and I get to save things to reference later (I do this often). Saving to Pocket directly from Feedly does require a pro account, but for under $4 per month I justify it pretty easily.

save-to-pocket

The key to reading with Pocket is that I can do it in quick sprints throughout the day whenever I have downtime. I read during breakfast on my phone, or at night on my iPad before I go to bed. Or even at my desk while I’m waiting on hold for a conference call.

I read every article I save to Pocket in it’s entirety.

That makes me be extra judicious when I’m choosing what to save, but also gives the authors that I’m reading my full attention. Remember, this is about becoming a better writer, so I’m looking for techniques they’re using to draw in an audience.

Sharing the Best Stuff

There’s one more level of filtering I perform in my daily ReadFlow™ (see what I did there?), and that’s the sharing stage. Of the stuff I have saved to Pocket, there are even fewer things that I share with people, mainly because even a good chunk of what I read isn’t terribly interesting.

buffer logo

I use Buffer for sharing and it’s been fantastic.

For those of you who don’t know, Buffer let’s you schedule sharing content across all the major social channels. I use it primarily for Twitter for my personal stuff, but we started using it at WP Site Care for Facebook and Twitter and have seen some really nice growth, and more importantly, folks are talking with us more than ever before through social.

I used to have reservations about auto-tweeting, and it still kind of weirds me out to see tweets from myself that I’m not writing in the moment, but if I were sharing content only when I was reading, you’d all get way too much of me in small doses and would instantly unfollow. I’m sure most of you are on the edge already.

The real reason I finally coped with auto-sharing is because I realized I didn’t want to be glued to social media 24/7, but I know that people are using it around the clock, so I’d miss making connections if I wasn’t doing some kind of scheduling.

That’s The Whole Recipe

There isn’t a whole lot to it, but it took me quite a while to find something that worked well for me so I figured I’d pass it along.

Reading is FUNdamental and I’ve been doing it without the FUN for quite a while. I’ve finally got something figured out that lets me consume a metric ton of content in a relatively short amount of time, and it feels good.

What are you using for your ReadFlow? Do you have any blogs or websites that I need to be reading?

How I Chose the Best VPN Provider for Our Business

We’ve recently been paying a lot of attention to security for our clients at Site Care. We’ve always been conscious of best practices, but we’re really starting to invest in security so we can make it something that sets us apart, and not just lip service. The last thing we want is for one of our clients to have their site compromised, and especially due to a mistake that was made while we were managing it.

We’re just about done with our implementation of LastPass Enterprise, and I’ve been testing different VPN clients for the last 3 or 4 months to see what would be a good fit for our team. As soon as we roll out our VPN, we’re going to look at 2 Factor authentication for all of our client sites to see if there’s a way we can implement that without creating more headaches for our customers. Like I said, security is a big focus for us right now so we’re hopefully pulling out all the stops.

As I was shopping for VPNs, I was overwhelmed by the number of options that were available. There were articles all over the internet telling me which solution was best, but these days with so many “try before you buy” offerings, that’s usually the approach I like to take when I’m testing software, even though it takes more time.

When I worked in IT Security, we always used hardware VPNs, which were excellent, and the control is definitely a nice bonus, but they wouldn’t quite hit the mark for our needs at Site Care.

  • It’s expensive – The cost can be a deterrent but that’s not why I ended up choosing a software solution
  • It’s more work – Setup, configuration, and maintenance is an ongoing cost and creates another job for me
  • It’s not redundant – Limited to one physical location, which means one point of failure (If our office network goes offline, work stops)
  • It has limited features and locations – Again we’re limited to one server. Lots of times being able to troubleshoot or work from other global locations is a nice thing to have, and not possible with a hardware VPN.

Choosing the Best VPN Provider for Our Needs

As I mentioned before, there are so many VPN providers out there. From major enterprise corporations like Norton, to my local ISP. In a lot of ways it’s like choosing a web host. Pick the one that solves all of your problems in the best possible way, and go with that one.

I did trials, and even paid for a few months with VyprVPN, GetCloak, Private Internet Access, ExpressVPN, and IP Vanish. There were a lot of things I liked about all of them, and things I didn’t like about some of them too. To be totally honest there are things I don’t love about the one I ended up choosing, but they’re nit picky and don’t really have anything to do with the most important items which are security and privacy.

Cloak

Cloak was by far the most elegant and easiest to use VPN. I had a funny issue with their service that I’ll get into in a minute, but if I were in the market for an incredibly simple to use VPN, and only needed to use it on the Mac platform, I’d definitely give Cloak the nod. It’s a beautifully simple answer to a tough problem.

I did have a few privacy concerns with the Cloak service. At a certain point I downloaded a file that was protected by copyright laws (whoops, my bad), and within a day my account was disabled by Cloak because they received a warning from the DMCA. Now I don’t blame them at all for disabling my account. They need to protect their service and all of their other users, but the fact that they were so easily able to trace the download back to me made me nervous about privacy and how much they’re logging. Other than that little hiccup it was a great service, but wasn’t enough for what we needed at Site Care.

 VyprVPN, ExpressVPN, and IP Vanish

VyprVPN wasn’t quite as easy to use as Cloak, but it was still incredibly easy to use, and it’s cross-platform and includes mobile apps so those were some really nice additions. All of the software was very polished, and seemed really stable. They also include some encrypted storage, and support all of the major VPN protocols on their Pro and Premier levels.

My only real concern with VyprVPN was it’s close connection with the GigaNews Usenet service, and a less than detailed FAQ answer about how they store and log user data. It also only allows 2 or 3 simultaneous connections on their upper tier plans, so cost starts to become a bigger factor at that point.

My experience with ExpressVPN and IP Vanish was very similar to VyprVPN, so I bundled them all together. They’re all cross-platform, they all had apps with reasonable to good interfaces, and they were all easy to use. ExpressVPN and IP Vanish. The one thing that was different about both of those services was their strict no logging policy, meaning your activity should be anonymous and protected.

I should also note that VyprVPN was the fastest VPN I tested across their entire network. A few other services had faster connections in certain locations, but VyprVPN seemed to be the fastest across the most locations.

Private Internet Access

Ultimately I ended up choosing Private Internet Access for a variety of reasons, but I’ll tell you right up front that it wasn’t because of their branding, website, or their apps. They’re all so damn ugly, and their branding is weak. Simple, yes, but visually speaking their offering was the worst out of all the software I tested.

At the end of the day though, when it comes to networking and security, pretty doesn’t really matter as long as it’s still easy to use.  Here are the main reasons we ended up going with Private Internet Access:

  • It supports all of the major VPN protocols, and can even be used at the router level for protecting your whole network.
  • It had the most available VPN servers of any of the providers, with over 2,000 worldwide.
  • They have a strict no logging policy, and even recommend you use an alias and bitcoin when you pay for their service. I didn’t go quite that far since we aren’t looking to do anything sketchy, but I liked that they make anonymity a priority.
  • It’s truly cross-platform with support for mobile devices and routers. Again, the apps are ugly, but they do the trick.
  • They have a NAT firewall in place to block inbound traffic. Some other VPN providers can open your computer to inbound requests.
  • Their top plan is only $40 per year and includes up to 5 simultaneous connections. Compared to the cost of other services per connection, it’s incredibly inexpensive.
  • It was fast. One of the biggest gripes with VPNs is speed. Using PIA I’m able to get about 90 Mbps on my 150 Mbps home connection using the servers closest to me. Some other providers that I tested were much worse, topping out at ~ 10 Mbps.

Hopefully all that information helps. This definitely isn’t an in-depth look at every VPN provider, but at least it’s a look into some of the things I took into consideration while looking, and which ended up being the best fit for Site Care.

Do you have a VPN provider that you love? Do you use a VPN at all? What keeps you from jumping in if you aren’t?

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