Technology Writing

Learning Node, 2nd Edition is now live

Learning Node 2nd cover

Learning Node, 2nd Edition is now in production and should be hitting the streets within a few weeks. We had a bit of excitement when Node 6.0 was rolled out, just as we entered production. However, this edition of the book was specifically designed to accommodate Node’s rather energetic release schedule, and the book survived with only minimal changes.

In this edition, I focused heavily on the Node core API, rather than third-party modules. I figured the book audience either consists of front-end developers working with JavaScript in the browser, or server-side developers who have worked with other tools. In either case, the audience wants to know how to work with Node…not this module or that. Node, itself.

My one trip into the fanciful was the chapter on Node in other environments. In this chapter, I had a chance to introduce the reader to Microsoft’s new ChakraCore for Node, as well as using Node with Arduino and Raspberry Pi, and with the Internet of Things (IoT). I figured by Chapter 12, we all deserved a special treat.

The book’s Table of Contents:

1. The Node Environment
2. Node Building Blocks: the Global Objects, Events, and Node’s Asynchronous Nature
3. Basics of Node Modules and Npm
4. Interactive Node with REPL and More on the Console
5. Node and the Web
6. Node and the Local System
7. Networking, Sockets, and Security
8. Child Processes
9. Node and ES6
10. Full-stack Node Development
11. Node in Development and Production
12. Node in New Environments

A more detailed TOC is available at O’Reilly.

I had a good crew at O’Reilly on the book, and an exceptionally good tech reviewer in Ethan Brown.


2016 Election: Why I’m Supporting Clinton

When I voted in the Missouri Presidential Primary, my choice was Hillary Clinton.

I have watched this woman fight the good fight for decades. When Bill Clinton was elected President and appointed her the chair of the task force to create a plan for reforming health care, I was delighted. Not only did we hope to finally bring about health care reform, but we saw a First Lady given a position commensurate with her capabilities. No more flowers and china…real work.

She served as chair on the committee that devised the plan. She testified for days in Congress in support of the plan. She traveled around the country talking about healthcare reform. She worked tirelessly on a plan that would have, among other things, instituted a mandate that employers provide healthcare insurance for their employees, that no one could be denied coverage, and lower-income people would not have to pay a dime.

I also watched as Republican vilified the plan, with a little help from the insurance companies. But what was harder to watch was the Democrats, with their incessant demands to have their own plans considered instead. President Clinton’s Democratic support fragmented to the point that we lost our first, best effort at healthcare reform. Democratic Senator Patrick Monyihan went so far as to declare there was no health care crises, as he pushed his own agenda.  Representative McDermott and Senator Wellstone pushed a single-payer plan that hadn’t a chance in hell of succeeding, with only 4 additional Senators and 90 House Members in support—including an independent by the name of Bernie Sanders.

Thank goodness President Obama didn’t have as many difficulties with the Democratic Congress as Clinton had, or we’d still be debating that we don’t have a health care crises, we have a health insurance crises.

I have health insurance for the first time in years because of the Affordable Care Act. It may not be perfect, it may not be the ideal, but when you’ve sweated over the fact of being financially ruined because you get sick, well, perfection is in the eye of the beholder.

Hillary Clinton has promised to continue support for the Affordable Care Act, and improve on it, as she can, and as Congress allows. It’s a realistic promise that builds on what we have. It takes into consideration the very real makeup of Congress that will exist in 2017: a House still controlled by  a rabid bunch of extremist Republicans, and possibly, only possibly, a Democratic controlled Senate.

More importantly, she sees the ACA as a stake in the ground in which to tie new reform to, rather than just dig everything up, and start over.

What Clinton promised on healthcare is what she can, as President, accomplish. There’s no fireworks, no talk of revolution—none of the sexy populism and grandiose schemes that seem to be the byword of this election. It would be so easy to promise the moon, along with everyone else, and then backtrack later by claiming Congress is too difficult and the Republicans have too much control. No, she’s quietly confirmed what she knows she can deliver: no more, no less.

In none of the issues listed at the Clinton web site, do we see promises that can’t be met. She doesn’t talk about “working towards” goals, she talks about actual, real-world efforts that we can see, and judge, ahead of time, and also hold her accountable for. That’s not glamorous, but it is gutsy.

She isn’t promising to free half the prison population, because she knows most prisons are state prisons and a President has no control over them. But Clinton can work to reduce the reliance on  mandatory minimum sentences. She can also work with the Justice Department to ensure equal protection for all under our country’s judicial systems—just like Obama is doing now in places like Ferguson, MO.

Clinton isn’t promising to eliminate all student debt; doing so would take an act of Congress. Instead, she wants to work towards refinancing existing loans so former students have more favorable terms; and that no one ever pays more than 10 percent of their income. She’s not promising free college for all, but easier access to tuition assistance by expanding on the existing Pell Grant system. Free college tuition for all, even if it were a good idea, would not only take an act of Congress, but would also require support from the leadership in all of the states.

Considering that Republican governors have been cutting state funds to colleges in almost all states they control, I doubt that we’ll see them gladly accept the fact that they have to provide even more funds.

Clinton supports the President’s DREAM Act, and she’ll work towards immigration reform. She promises to help families as much as a President can. No magic wand approach, here. No mention of walls, either.

No President has the capability of breaking up the banks, but Clinton has promised to strictly enforce rules against them. And work to strengthen the existing rules, and close loopholes—all actions an Executive can take if Congress resists any other effort.

Clinton won’t ban all fracking, because no President can ban all fracking.  Only an act of Congress can enforce a fracking ban.

But Clinton has promised to phase out fracking on public land, as well as more strictly enforce safety and environmental regulations. The important thing to remember, though, is we can’t  phase out fracking by dumping us back into a dependency on coal and coal mining. We don’t have an infrastructure in place where we can immediately replace non-renewable energy sources with renewable ones. It’s a complex problem with a lot of dependencies, none of which easily fits into a sound bite. But then, I’m not sure that voting for someone because of their sound bites is representative of good governance.

I have no doubts, though, that Clinton will honor the Paris Agreement, work to have Congress ratify it, and even expand on it, if possible. And that she’ll be a fervent proponent for both solar and wind energy.

Hillary Clinton is also capable of holding her own under pressure and attack. We’ve seen the Republicans mount a campaign to tear Clinton down that exceeds any other in modern history. The only person they’ve gone after more virulently is Obama. He’s only been the target for eight years—she’s been a target for decades.

Case in point is the infamous emails. Clinton establishes her own professionally maintained email server rather than use a popular email service like AOL (Colin Powell’s favorite), and next thing we know, according to our Republican friends, the fate of the country is undermined.

Partisan hyperbole aside, Clinton scrupulously maintained a set of her emails from when she was Secretary of State, turning them over when requested, and asking for all of the emails to be published so that people could see she had nothing to hide. No other person in the White House Administration has had every email they’ve ever received or sent be scrutinized with the level that Clinton’s emails have been scrutinized. They have passed through the Intelligence Community filter, and when consider the agencies involved, it’s almost unbelievable that any of them managed to survive relatively intact. Since the last of the emails have been delivered, we now know, for a fact, that none were classified at the time they were sent or received. We also know that emails Powell received in his private email have also suffered the same retro-classification, symptomatic more of inter-agency squabbling than a real threat to national security.

Yet here is the Republican National Committee, now suing the State Department for even more, trying to get emails from people connected to Hillary Clinton, many in private organizations; all in a desperate attempt to keep the manufactured scandal alive. It would be funny if it didn’t cost tax payers millions of dollars.

Thankfully, most of us see this for the desperate and despicable act it is. Clinton will survive it, as she’s survived so many of these contrived controversies. She survived the emails, she survived the Benghazi never-ending committees, which Republicans foolishly admitted were created to undermine her Presidential candidacy.

There are even those who would hold Clinton accountable for the actions of her husband when he was President, as if she’s nothing more than a faint echo of him. You’d think we’d be beyond considering women to be nothing more than appendages of their mates, but evidently not when it suits certain agendas.

Bluntly, in my opinion, Hillary Clinton will be a better President than Bill. She’s more experienced now than he was when he got the job. She’s also more open to hearing new ideas, more aware of all the factors in play that can cause havoc. As practical as she is, she’s also more idealistic—a little more empathetic to what’s happening to the average person.

I’ve also seen Clinton exercise her considerable intellect, her shrewdness, and her team-building skills in support of the United States and our current, much loved President, Barrack Obama. Team building doesn’t factor into our discussions about being a good President, but it’s an essential element. FDR managed to pull positive results out of disaster because he was able to swear in the majority of his cabinet the very day he was inaugurated. He had the complete backing, not only of Congress, but also most state governments. To hit the ground running, he knew he had to have a good team in place.

Over the years, Clinton has helped raise funds for Democratic candidates in Congress and down ballot races. She knows, as President, she can’t hope to bring about change all on her own. She needs a solid team behind her.

(We all need more Democrats in Congress if we hope to save this country—something we seem to forget every odd year election. We even need some independents. Among those who have received campaign funds directly from Clinton’s PAC is none other than Bernie Sanders, in his Senatorial race.)

The most recent attack against Clinton is that she’s not publishing transcripts for all her speeches given when she was a private citizen—something that’s never been asked of any Presidential candidate. Why do people want the transcripts? So they can cherry pick through the text, taking bits and pieces out of context in order to misrepresent who she is and what she believes. They did the same thing with her emails.

This isn’t transparency…this is fresh fodder for the  anti-Clinton machine, necessary because no matter how much she’s been bashed, she’s survived. The only difference now is that she’s being bashed from the left—an act that has caused deep fissures among those who have long fought in solidarity.

I don’t fault those on the left who don’t support Clinton because they believe Bernie Sanders has a better plan for the country. We each have our own interests and beliefs. I do, however, fault those on the left who repeat the GOP talking points, because they’re so obsessed over Sanders winning that they’ll burn anything in his path—and that includes the future of the country, because they’ll toss this next election to the GOP rather than work with the rest of us to keep what would be a complete disaster from happening.

Bernie or Bust is a shout from the privileged class, because they’re not a minority, or gay, or poor, or a woman who demands the freedom of choice, or Muslim, or an immigrant. They can call for a revolution, safe in the knowledge that they have nothing to lose.

The rest of us live in the real world. We know what’s at stake. I don’t believe Bernie Sanders has a chance for the nomination, but if he were to get it, I would support him.

I feel confident, though, that the Democratic nominee will be Hillary Clinton. She’s our best choice, as President, and our best chance at winning the election. She’ll be a good leader, building on what Obama started, but also adding her own personal touch, and achievements.

We’ll progress under a President Hillary Clinton presidency, and isn’t that what being a progressive is all about?

Ms. Squirrel is hiding in tree, until this is all over.




The not-so-smart SmartThings Home Hub

One of the most popular smart home controllers is SmartThings, especially the company’s newest hub, SmartThings V2. Interest in the hub was sufficient to attract the attention of Samsung, who bought SmartThings in August, 2014. Samsung recently touted SmartThings as the hub controller for many of its new smart home endeavors.

Environment Legal, Laws, and Regs

Andy Johnson EPA Consent Decree

Previous coverage here and here

Andy Johnson created a “stockpond” by building a dam on a creek that is covered under the Clean Water Act. The EPA issued a violation to him for not getting a permit for unauthorized dumping in said creek. The solution outlined in the violation was to work with the agency to remediate the damage. If he didn’t comply, he could face significant fines.

Rather than work with the EPA, Johnson sued, to the accompaniment of press conferences, news storiesCongressional hearings, op-ed pieces by Paul Ryan, and videos featuring a plethora of American flags and small children.

March 22, lawyers with the US Department of Justice and representing Andy Johnson filed a consent decree in court to resolve the court case of Andy Johnson V EPA. The consent decree outlines steps that Johnson must take in order to settle the matter. These are:

  1. Plant dormant willows partially around the pond he created, and ensure they live until September of 2017.
  2. The site must be monitored for invasive species until September of 2017.
  3. Fence the north side of the pond to keep livestock away from the planted areas. The fence must be maintained until September 2017.

That’s it.

I obtained the Administrative Records for this case from the EPA. These are records the EPA maintains for any violation or possible violation, which are then submitted to the courts if the violation results in a court case. In the Administrative Records we discover:

  • That a neighbor warned Johnson he needed a permit to build the dam he was building. He was warned before he started, and again during the work. The same neighbor also asked to be notified when Johnson was informed of the complaint, as the neighbor wanted to notify the Sheriff’s office ahead of time because of other unspecified actions Johnson had taken against the neighbor.
  • That same neighbor, or neighbors, had significant problems with the work, detailed in photos showing potential points of erosion and problems with shared driveways, and silt contamination of surrounding areas.
  • Wyoming gave Johnson a stockpond permit, even though the State knew Johnson was really building a fish pond, “with the understanding that the local official could use it”. Which “local offical”? This isn’t given, but if I lived in that area, I sure would like to know which “local official”.
  • Regardless of the “local official” who would also benefit from the pond, the general feeling in the  local community was that they did not like the pond and felt “if this type of project is allowed to happen“, it would set a precedent that would then be followed by others in the area.
  • Johnson had one single horse, which is sufficient for Wyoming to give a stockpond permit, but the neighbor never saw the horse actually use the “stockpond”.
  • The construction of the simple “stockpond” required a heavy construction plow, and what looked like a whole lot of rock and concrete.
  • The resulting pond easily exceeded the State mandated 20 acre feet as maximum size for a “stockpond”.
  • The “stockpond” is an “ongoing source of irritation between neighbors“. Yeah, we caught that.
  • The County was concerned about the “stockpond”: that it was misrepresented, that it would cause problems with neighbors and an adjacent county road, and that the public wasn’t given an opportunity to comment. “It would appear from the permit that this reservoir has been constructed under the pretense of providing waters to livestock or wildlife although this is an eight (8) acre, residential subdivision.”
  • It’s necessary to maintain the same flow of water for downstream fisheries, even in low-flow times. A dam with a spillway can adversely impact this flow.
  • Though the dam doesn’t look it might blow and take out the roadways (knock on wood) it did puzzle the State engineers as to why it didn’t match the permit request to the State.
  • Andy feels entitled

Well, then. Seems there is much more to this “stockpond” than Mr. Paul Ryan mentioned in his opinion piece, or reflected in the video with all those American flags.

I’m disappointed in the consent decree. Johnson’s actions were an egregious violation of the CWA. I have received documents from the Justice Department in response to a FOIA about the communications leading to this decree, and will post an update.





Nest: Don’t toss it on the Smart Home dead pile just yet

Having heavily invested in Nest products, it’s disconcerting to read articles with titles such as Nest, Google’s $3 billion Bet, May Be in Trouble, or With $340 million in revenue, Nest is underperforming, and its future at Google is at risk. If Google dumps Nest, then who is going to maintain my Nest Protects (smoke and carbon monoxide detectors), thermostat, and Dropcam/NestCams?

The short version of the stories is that Nest is under-performing, it’s having problems with management, and talent is jumping ship. Well, Google, oh, sorry, Alphabet, can fix all of these problems: solve the management problems and work on keeping the necessary staff onboard. Alphabet/Nest also needs to roll out new products and integrate the Nest products with OnHub, which, from a smart home perspective, is dumb as a stump. Both efforts would be an interesting challenge to employees and engineer fresh interest in the brand.

I like my Nest products. I like the softly glowing green ring from my Protects when I turn out the light, letting me know they’re watching out for me. I also like that I can see how their battery is holding up just by using my smartphone. No more battery-low beeping in the middle of the night.

My one Dropcam, and a second NestCam are terrific. They’re the only video cameras I know that you can install indoors, point outdoors through windows, and get a good picture—whether daylight, or illuminated by outdoor lights. They adjust beautifully to changing light conditions, are quite responsive, and you can turn them off when you don’t need them.

My Nest thermostat is very useful…other than the one time the software glitch drained all the battery, leading to some very embarrassing moments for Nest and Alphabet. But my energy use has dropped because of the thermostat, and I have more finite control over what happens, and when.

I also have an IFTTT recipe where my Netatmo  triggers my Nest thermostat to turn on the fan, when it detects carbon monoxide levels exceeding 1500ppm. No more groggy, sleepy days working at the computer.

This IFTTT capability isn’t the only new integration. I can now control the thermostat using Amazon’s Echo, and in case of a fire, the Protects trigger my Philips Hue lights to briefly turn on bright red, to wake us up, and then dim red, which is better for seeing in smoke. They also flash yellow when there’s a warning.

What’s been missing from Nest in the past was smart home integration with other products. The division is now getting its act together in this regard. It would be a shame to cut it loose when it’s just now starting to get interesting.

Come on Alphabet, if you’re going to be a multi-headed hydra, then you have to know when to step back and when to step in. If the head of Nest, Tony Fadell, is as bad as people are saying, then toss his butt into the void and bring in fresh talent. If he isn’t that bad, then defend him. Either way, demonstrate your commitment to the company. No one is going to buy your products, no matter how shiny, if people think you’re going to cut both the products and the customers, loose to fend on our own.

A good place to start showing commitment is demonstrating some new smart home magic: Nest, meet OnHub. OnHub…OnHub…wake up, OnHub…meet Nest.