Hello 2017! 2016 Year in Review

Hello 2017! 2016 Year in Review

It’s been a few months since I last posted, lots has happened. I moved to Texas (temporarily!), watched in dismay as a controversial president was elected, did some more traveling and spent time with friends and family.

I think the start of a new year is a good time to reflect on the previous year, which for me was jam-packed with milestones and moments. So–here we go!

The most important milestone of 2016 for me was the decision to leave eHana. After working with my partner Jacob for 15 years, struggling to bootstrap the tiny company of just the two of us in a donated closet-sized office in Kakaako to the shiny eHana HQ with a score of awesome employees in downtown Boston, I was ready for a break. I thought I’d take a few months off to travel and reboot for the next adventure, but it’s ended up being more than a few months!

Some of the many travel adventures from “Sabbatical 2016”:

Steamboat Springs, CO
San Francisco, CA
Chicago, IL
Big Sky, MT
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, MI
Everglades, FL
Laie, HI
Key West, FL
Zion NP, UT
Champaign-Urbana, IL (My Alma Mater, UIUC!)
Global Seed Vault, Svalbard NOR
Stockholm, SWE
St. Louis, MO
Castle Neuschwanstein, DEU
Boston, MA
Savannah, GA
Fort Walton Beach, FL
Monterrey, MEX
Makapu’u Lighthouse, HI

I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to travel to so many places and meet with friends and family. For me, getting recharged also involves getting back into nature. In 2016 I had the opportunity to trek into the wilderness:

Backpacking to the bottom of Grand Canyon, AZ
Hiking up Mt. Baldy, CA
Devil’s Icebox Sinkhole in Columbia, MO
Kayaking Adventfjorden in the Arctic Circle
Hanging off the “Troll’s Tongue”, NOR
Backpacking the Alps in Zermatt, CHE
Peak-bagging Mt. Washington, NH
Backpacked Timberline Trail, Mt. Hood OR
Backpacked Muliwai Trail, Big Island, HI

Looking back at snapshots of the adventures from the year, it’s hard to believe all of the wonderful places I’ve been and the beauty in the world that I’ve seen. I am thankful for the ability and means to travel, and for my wife Lyla putting up with a year of wanderlust and many nights in a sleeping bag.

As I close the book on 2016, this new year’s alarming story has already started being written. I’m motivated to jump back in, later this year. Back to work, being super productive and back to making a dent in the universe. I’ll see you then!

Free* Slack Email Integration

Free* Slack Email Integration

If you’re on the free Slack plan (I have a small personal Slack domain that I experiment with), the built in email integration is not available. There are a number of ways to work around this– IFTTT has various recipes, Zapier’s got a bunch of zaps, but I’d been playing around with the Serverless framework and figured it’d be a nice little project to try it out with. And I’d end up with almost free email integration.1

Serverless Framework Logo
And they have an awesome logo!

Although Serverless is built on AWS Lambda, and AWS has an email service (Simple Email Service), I decided to use Mailgun since it gives you a free sandbox domain so you don’t have to set up a custom domain for your email, and also gives you 10,000 free emails per month.

The code is configured to let you set up an email address like slack+[channel]@example.com, which will let you post notifications into a specific channel. I set up shipping delivery and last-minute travel deal notifications to #alerts, and all the Hamilton lottery rejection emails to go to #wah-wah.

Hooray! SlackAttack commence.

Check out the code on Github at: https://github.com/Marcus-L/serverless-mailgun-slack

  1. OK, it might cost you a penny or two in AWS data transfer fees. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Short Savannah Overnight

Short Savannah Overnight

I haven’t spent much time in the south other than a few trips to Florida and some time in Texas’ big cities. When the chance to fly in and spend the night in Savannah, Georgia came up, I went for it! Although I only had one night in the city, I appreciated the historic and ornate architecture, the abundance of parks and tree-lined squares, and the scenic Savannah river.

Forsyth Park
Stroll through Forsyth Park

Savannah’s historic area is famous for its 22 public squares, so I decided that the best way to hit all of them up was on a run, which ended up being a great idea!

Savannah Chatham Metro Police Department Headquarters

The route passed by many historic homes and cobblestone-paved paths and was a fun taste of the city. I think my favorite square was the neatly manicured Whitefield Square (the one furthest to the bottom right), but they all had their own charm:

Savannah 22 squares + 1 park run

The quick jog was very nice and plenty of people were out enjoying the day, despite it being quite hot. I stopped to get an iced tea in Forsyth Park since I was parched. The water from public water fountains tasted metallic, it was drinkable but not very tasty. A quick trip back to the hotel to have a shower, then we went out to the Green Truck Pub where we found a good selection of vegetarian options and brews on tap. They also were so hipstery that they didn’t just have filament lightbulbs or mason jars–they had a combination mason-jar filament lightbulb. Whoa. That’s next-level hipster.


There’s plenty we didn’t see, but the short stopover in Savannah was interesting, and I’d like to come back and explore more of the city someday.

Startup Podcast Run

Startup Podcast Run

I have a 3-4 mile loop1 that I’ve been running pretty often this summer–it’s been amazing to have some time to get back into running and feel a little fitter than usual. I’ve been running for years without music or headphones, usually content to let my mind wander and take in the sounds and the scenery as I pass through the neighborhood on foot.

Today, on a lark I decided to switch things up and run with my headphones on, so I asked Jake for a good podcast about startups. He directed me to the aptly named “Startup Podcast” so I installed Pocket Casts and downloaded some episodes before heading out on the run.

I was so engrossed by the startup podcast that I was still running after 4 episodes2 and 6.4 miles! I went a little slower than usual (it’s hard to run with gusto while trying to listen to someone talk), but it was an enjoyable experience that I think I might do more of. I ended up running till sunset at Piers Park, one of the best places to get some nice photos of Boston at any time of day.

The startup podcast is a few years old now and the story is all played out and ready for me to binge through a few seasons, so hopefully they continue to be entertaining enough to help me pass the time and many more miles on the road.

  1. Add me on Runkeeper to see the route
  2. Played back at 1.3x speed
Feedability – Full Feed RSS Server with Readability

Feedability – Full Feed RSS Server with Readability

If you’re an avid reader of blogs and still got your head in the sand using RSS you probably use a feed aggregator service like Feedly to read your news. Putting aside the argument of whether RSS is dead and everyone uses Twitter or Reddit to get their news, feed readers can be useful at least to provide an app like Reeder or GReader content for you to sync offline and read while you suffer through internet withdrawal on a plane (although this has changed much in recent years with most flights, even over the Pacific or Atlantic getting internet service).

Offline content is great, but the dreaded “partial feed” can cause a particularly link-baity headline like “26 Things That Will Make You Say ‘Hmmm, That’s Interesting’” end in disappointment as you see the truncated excerpt and then the taunting “Click here to read more” link only you can’t click there since you don’t have internet!1

Feedability screenshot, GitHub link

Well, have no fear dear reeders, and enjoy whiling the time away in-flight (assuming you remembered to sync your feeds before you went into airplane mode), because Feedability is here! Feedability is a full feed readability server, which takes existing RSS or Atom feeds as input, and replaces the truncated article synopsis with the full Readability‘d version of the feed entry links. As shown in the screenshot above, you can preview article content to tweak it with CSS white/blacklist selectors before generating a feed link–the Readability library (the same one used in Firefox for its “Readability mode”) does a pretty good job at extracting the page content but sometimes needs a few hints to find all the article content and exclude non-content. Feel free to fiddle with the demo site, but if you want to use it for real you’ll have to set up your own server since the demo site has IP throttling to avoid tons of people from using it and overloading my demo server.

This is another tool that’s aimed at the techie crowd, but let’s face it–normals don’t really use RSS anyway. Besides, there’s some joy in tweaking the CSS selector rules to get your feed looking just right (until the authors change the page layout, but whatever). So, hope this is useful to you and if not at least now all of my feeds are full-feed, and as a bonus I got to learn about the Materialize CSS library (to the point: don’t use it, too immature) and then Polymer (two-word review: thumbs up!), and the recently released ASP.Net Core 1.0.

GitHub Link: https://github.com/Marcus-L/feedability/

  1. Or the internet in-flight is so slow that even a picture of a totally peeled watermelon can’t entice you to wait for the page to load