Andrew Munsell

I am a software engineer based out of Seattle, WA

Development Environments the Right Way with Vagrant and Puppet

As long as I can remember, I have used some form of MAMP/WAMP stack for development. I'd download the entire stack pre-packaged with some sort of control console, and develop web applications straight out of my Dropbox folder (with Git as version control), changing the web root of the *AMP configuration depending on which project I am working on.

This worked fine for many years, but recently I've discovered the magic of Vagrant and Puppet.

Read "Development Environments the Right Way with Vagrant and Puppet"

Pebble Watch Review

Almost a year ago, a new and innovative project was published on Kickstarter. Expecting to make only a couple thousand watches at most, Pebble was completely unaware of the impact their product would make in the coming months.

Ten million dollars later, the Pebble smart watch shattered Kickstarter's record for the most money funded for a project and had the task of coordinating the design and manufacturing of over 80,000 watches to some 65,000 Kickstarter backers around the world. Despite selling out of the watch on the crowd funding website, Pebble's success was reinforced when they continued to sell pre-orders on their website.

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Facebook Home - What Can Go Horribly Wrong

Today, Facebook launched their new "Home" experience and the HTC First. Conceptually, the Android home screen replacement seems like a fantastic idea-- it places bright, large photos on your lock screen that can be swiped through when you have a free moment, and focuses on your friends.

But, there's a fundamental issue with placing user generated content on your home screen.

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1&1 Asks for Your Password to Cancel Your Account

After a couple of long years using 1&1 Shared Hosting and Virtual Private Servers, I've completely migrated all of my hosting to Digital Ocean and Heroku, and my domains to Namecheap. And after trying to cancel my 1&1 account, I now have complete justification for doing so.

1&1's experience has always been similar to that of a larger company, with over complicated systems and procedures to do simple things. Contacting their support means waiting through a phone queue, domains sometimes can take forever to switch name servers (though the process in itself takes a while on any provider, 1&1 seems particularly slow), and the various FTP and database account management systems are nightmares.

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Please, Stop Helping the Hackers Guess My Passwords

There have been numerous high profile hacking attempts (and successes) in recent months and years. In 2012 alone, millions of accounts' hashed passwords and other sensitive information was stolen across tens of different websites:

  • Zappos: 24 million accounts' passwords and email addresses exposed
  • Global Payments: 1.5 million credit card numbers exposed
  • LinkedIn: 6.5 million hashed passwords stolen-- many of which weren't salted
  • eHarmony: 1.5 million hashed passwords exposed
  • Passwords compromised
  • Yahoo: 450,000 passwords leaked-- in plain text

By now, I'm sure you get the point-- your information is never safe. When you input your credit card number or password into to a website, you're trusting they've taken the necessary precautions to safeguard this data. The reality is, there's a lot of business that do not implement decent security practices.

In fact, the worst offenders not only store your password insecurely, but they prevent you from protecting yourself properly. In the event of a leak in which password hashes are made public, having an extremely secure password is the only way to keep yourself protected. A secure password can be composed of random letters, numbers, symbols, or even a long sentence that you remember. The issue is, not all sites let you use these kinds of secure passwords.

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Review: Mailbox for iPhone - Email, But A Little Better

Email is something most working people deal with every day, and have been dealing with for a long time. It's never fun to open your email inbox at the beginning of a work day and see a mix of help requests, advertisements, and the truly important stuff all mixed into a big list of words and colors.

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How To Control Adafruit LED Pixels with Raspberry Pi

In my room, my bed is lofted above my desk. While I like the setup, it becomes a little difficult to see and study because the only source of light in the room is obscured slightly. Unfortunately, because I'm in Seattle and we have rain and overcast weather from September to July, sunlight isn't an option.

I could always buy a lamp, but why do that when I can have a little fun tinkering with technology? I also had a Raspberry Pi sitting on my desk, so I decided I would put it to use. The completed project, which I call PiFX, can be recreated with the steps below.

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Learning Jekyll By Example - The Ultimate Jekyll Tutorial

I've been working on this tutorial for the last few months, and it's finally ready. You can read the tutorial for free or purchase the E-Book version to support me and future tutorials.

Jekyll is a static website generator that takes Markdown, Textile, HTML, or other formats and transforms them into a complete static website. The platform is extremely customizable and extensible.

While building a Jekyll website isn't for everyone, it is a powerful platform that allows your website to perform great and be extremely secure. In fact, I run my own blog off of Jekyll, Amazon S3, and CloudFront. "Learning Jekyll By Example" walks you through this entire process, so if you'd like to learn how to setup your blog in the same fashion, this tutorial is for you.

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Always Connected: Cookoo Watch Review

Many years ago, I received a Timex Internet Messenger watch. Back then, my parents used it to send me a message when it was time to come inside after a day of playing with my friends in the neighborhood (like I said, this was a long time ago). I loved the thing, and I'm not entirely sure why-- it was just a watch.

But my obsession with the Timex was an indicator of a budding obsession for the latest technology. At this point, I didn't have a cell phone or laptop, and I barely had my own desktop computer for the little homework I had. Yet I was still fascinated with the ability to receive a message on my wrist, and always be connected-- even it was just to my parents.

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ThreeBar Launched

If you've recently noticed a little bar appearing at the top of your screen on this website asking you to follow me on Twitter, then you've already experienced ThreeBar, a new service I've been working on.

In summary, ThreeBar is a welcome bar service that allows you to promote content to your visitors. Whether you're looking to draw visitors to your book's home page, get people to follow you on Twitter, or simply say hello, ThreeBar is designed for you.

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Getting Started with Raspberry Pi: Installing Raspbian

Now that you have a Raspberry Pi and want to set it up with an operating system (need to buy a Raspberry Pi? Get one on Amazon), you have several choices. If you're primarily using the Raspberry Pi as a media center, you may want to consider installing RaspBMC, a custom distribution of XBMC. This will allow your Raspberry Pi to boot directly into a media center interface.

But if you're looking to use your Raspberry Pi as a general computer, you may want to consider the Raspbian distribution. Raspbian is a version of Debian Linux specifically configured to run on the Raspberry Pi and is recommended by the Raspberry Pi Foundation as the operating system to install.

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Pixi Dust for Windows 8

In 2010, Pixi Dust made a splash in the WebOS App Market, garnering over 100,000 downloads on the Palm Pre alone. I'm happy to announce that Pixi Dust is now available for Windows 8 tablets and desktops, from the Microsoft Surface RT to the most powerful multi-core x86 gaming desktops.

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Recap: CES 2013

CES 2013 ended on Friday, and I just arrived back in Seattle this morning. This year's CES was the first I've attended, and there are a few products and companies that surprised or impressed me.

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I Hope Your Kickstarter Project Stays Off CNN

Kickstarter has seen its fair share of successful projects in 2012. From the Ouya game console, to the FORM 1 3D printer, to the Pebble smart watch (which I backed myself), millions of dollars have been invested into projects from startups and individuals. To show what a great year 2012 was, out of the 39 projects listed on Kickstarter's "Most Funded" page, all but four were funded in this last year.

The rising popularity of Kickstarter and sheer volume of money being invested is fantastic-- it allows for a small startup or individual to have an idea, and make it reality.

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Using Hamachi to Access Your VM

I recently wrote about using virtual machines to host your own GitLab instance. In that post, I suggested setting a static IP address for your virtual machines so they are accessible through a fixed address. Unfortunately, issues with networking and allowing the VMs to access the outside internet forced me to look for an alternate solution. Recently, I discovered a better way of accessing these VMs that also gives them internet access and a static IP address-- through a VPN using Hamachi.

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How to Install GitLab Locally in a Virtual Machine

GitLab is an open source clone of the popular GitHub service. In a lot of ways, it is similar to GitHub's Enterprise solution or Atlassin Stash-- it allows you to host Git repositories and a management interface yourself, potentially within your company's firewall.

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Intro to Adobe Brackets

Adobe Brackets is a new text editor by Adobe built in Javascript. It certainly has some stiff competition from long time favorites like TextMate and Sublime Text 2 (my personal favorite and daily driver), but I personally have my doubts as to its future success.

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Moving from Amazon EC2 to Heroku

Recently I've been making the transition from my own Amazon EC2 server to Heroku. I've had some experience in the past with managing servers, but ultimately, I'm a developer, not a sysadmin. This meant that I was constantly hacking together a server that worked, but it never ran particularly well.

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Computer Science Tests are Like It's 1984

I recently completed the second level of Computer Science courses (CSE 143) at the University of Washington. If you know me and talk to me in person, you probably know that I am not majoring in Computer Science, and would go so far to say I actually dislike the major. While this is a topic for another day, CSE tests have always bugged me.

The basic level Computer Science tests are outdated, and in my opinion, not necessarily indicative of a student's true programming skill.

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Your Medical Records Aren't Always Safe: The Important of Security in Medicine

Recently, I attended and presented at the 2012 Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) conference in Chicago, Illinois. RSNA is a massive gathering-- one of the largest in the world--and is a venue for manufacturers and medical software companies to show off the latest Radiology equipment and software. Being a software developer, I sought out several presentations by Radiology residents and graduate students that pertained to technology and medical software. During one of the hands on courses, in which the audience participated in the setup of web based Radiology software (including launching XAMPP and navigating PHPMyAdmin to view the MySQL table structure), I noticed something extremely peculiar.

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